Declan Rix

The day after Tiger Roll won his second Grand National, Declan Rix remains in awe of the winner and his connections, as he looks back on what he considers to be one of racing's greatest ever horses.

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Tiger Roll’s second win in the Grand National on Saturday brought euphoria to horse racing on a par to what I remember with Best Mate’s third Gold Cup, Kauto Star recapturing his second Blue Riband, Denman’s second Hennessy and the reincarnation of Sprinter Sacre when he won his second Champion Chase, having battled back from poor health.

I was too young to really appreciate Best Mate at the time, and similar sentiments likely apply to Kauto Star and Denman, but the joy racing fan’s felt when Davy Russell crossed the winning line aboard Tiger Roll on Merseyside seemed just as good as when the great Sprinter Sacre bounced back at Cheltenham in 2016 – an iconic moment in the sport.

Tiger Roll emulating the great Red Rum in becoming the first horse since 1974 to win back-to-back Nationals is different however, because it feels like a huge moment, but for the sport. Within the industry, Saturday was big, but Tiger Roll is now not just a People’s Horse in racing, he is simply The People’s Horse. This is reflected in Sunday’s UK newspapers where Tiger Roll made the frontpages of The Sunday Times, The Observer and The Sunday Telegraph. There may be more, and in Ireland too?

This coverage – along with terrestrial TV exposure on ITV – who reported an audience of 9.6 million people tuned in to watch The Tiger roar – shouldn’t be taken for granted; it really does have the power to inspire the younger generation in becoming racing fans and even potentially seek a career in the industry.

It was back in 2000 when I was pulled in by this great game, by Papillon, and I haven’t enjoyed any other sport as much since. Coming from a family who knew nothing about the horse racing industry, the horse as an animal and just enjoyed a few social bets, I now work in what can be an incestuous industry because of the Grand National and a small bet my grandfather placed on my behalf.

The Grand National has that kind of pulling power – I know many other people who now work in racing in different guises because of the race – and Tiger Roll just might be the horse who is the catalyst in sparking a new breed of race fans to the track. Hopefully these ones wear socks when they attend, that would be my only wish.

After the Cheltenham Festival, Davy Russell is a man who likely wished the ground swallowed him up in sporting terms having not ridden a winner at Prestbury Park, the first time the Cork man failed to do so since 2006. Presenting Percy disappointing in the Gold Cup I’m sure added to his frustration, but Aintree and Tiger Roll now mean last month’s festival is a distant thought and this month’s festival is forever a(another) special memory.

Tiger Roll and Davy Russell after winning the Grand National
Davy Russell thanks his brave partner Tiger Roll after their victory

Russell had just three rides at Aintree last week, two of them won. Along with claiming one of the most coveted prizes for a second time, Russell also guided Ornua to victory in the Grade 1 Doom Bar Maghull Novices' Chase for Henry De Bromhead. Not a bad day’s work, with the former Irish Champion Jockey not even manging to pick up a ride on the first two days of the Aintree meeting.

The opening days were kinder to Gordon Elliott – more specifically the second day – when the trainer bagged a double, winning the first two races with the gambled on Three Musketeers and Felix Desjy, who won the Grade 1 Top Novices' Hurdle. The latter’s win meant the Meath trainer brought up his 50th Grade 1 success in what has already been a remarkable career.

We spoke to Elliott last week on the run-up to the National, his rise and background was somewhat discussed, but another huge chapter in the life of the Longwood-based trainer was added on Saturday with Tiger Roll. At the age of 41, the Meath man has now won three Grand Nationals, along with a Gold Cup and many other top and prestigious races. He is simply remarkable.

So is the little Tiger Roll. What more can honestly be said about a horse who does all the talking himself? The nine-year-old son of Authorized out of Swiss Roll and once upon a time bought for Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation is now a four-time Cheltenham Festival winner and a two-time Grand National hero.

He has won over trips ranging from 2m to 4m2½f on ground varying from heavy to good. Success has come over hurdles, fences, cross-country events and the famous birch of Aintree, he was even just touched off on his sole run on the all-weather. Tiger Roll is a freak of nature and without doubt, one of the greatest horses racing has ever seen. Period. Excuse my Americanism.

As a nine-year-old, his story is not over yet, Tiger Roll is still a young horse and clearly at the top of his game, but while talk of a record-equalling third National bid is somewhat natural, enough time is never spent in the present after big race wins. Enjoy Tiger Roll now, and what will be will be.

Whatever happens, he has now solidified himself as a racing great, along with Gordon Elliott and Davy Russell. Many years down the line, when we enjoy the build up to Grand Nationals, the media will be poking and prodding connections to reminisce about their great days for fans, just like we currently see with (poor) Richard Pitman reliving his heart-breaking second aboard Crisp to Red Rum in 1973 every season. 

Tiger Roll’s story has been much kinder and there’s hopefully more to come. Congratulations to all involved and thank you for producing what could be racing's next fans and custodians.

Declan Rix
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