Tiger Roll holds on to win dramatic Grand National in photo-finish

• Davy Russell rides winner for trainer Gordon Elliott
• Pleasant Company finishes second by a head

The owner of the horse that won the “People’s Race” here on Saturday is one of Europe’s most high-profile multi-millionaires, but Tiger Roll, who beat Pleasant Company by a fast-diminishing head, is a horse with whom the watching millions could identify. Like most of us, Tiger Roll has always had his good days and bad days – and when it mattered most he had the best day of all.

Punters who take their betting seriously know all about the Timeform squiggle, the mark against a horse’s name in the ratings that suggests it is unreliable and cannot be trusted to give its all at the business end of a race. Tiger Roll has had a squiggle for years, despite a record that includes three victories at the Cheltenham Festival. Even Michael O’Leary, his owner, called him “a little rat of a thing” after the race.

But Tiger Roll now has one of the most complete and impressive winning records of any jumper of recent years and O’Leary paid rich tributes not only to Tiger Roll and his rider, Davy Russell, but also Gordon Elliott, the trainer who somehow persuaded a Triumph Hurdle winner, over the minimum trip of two miles, to win the world’s most famous steeplechase over four-and-a-quarter.

“If you look at the size of him, we never thought he’d make a chaser,” O’Leary said. “We kept him hurdling for two years and then there was nothing else to do, so we tried him over fences. He wasn’t a particularly brilliant novice chaser, either. But the phenomenal training performance here is that this horse has the speed to win a Triumph Hurdle and only four years later he’s winning four-mile races at Cheltenham and Aintree on soft and tacky ground. It is a brilliant training performance.”

With the exception of a minor mistake at the first, Tiger Roll was foot-perfect throughout and one of the few runners able to keep Pleasant Company within striking distance as Willie Mullins’s runner produced an exceptional round of jumps.

For much of the second circuit it seemed likely that it would be enough to get Pleasant Company home in front as he gained ground on his pursuers at every fence. But as he turned towards the stands on the final circuit with two to jump, Tiger Roll was suddenly at his flank and travelling like a winner.

This was the point at which the old Tiger Roll, the one who earned a squiggle, might have decided that enough was enough. There was not a hint of reluctance, though, as Russell cruised into the lead and jumped the last with a commanding advantage.

The only scare came with the winning post in sight as David Mullins summoned a strong final effort from Pleasant Company and rapidly and suddenly the gap started to close. But Tiger Roll had done enough and when Pleasant Company hit the front he was two strides too late.


Bless The Wings, a 13-year-old stable companion of the winner, was another 11 lengths behind in third, while Anibale Fly was an honourable fourth for Barry Geraghty. Bryony Frost, the focus of much attention before her first ride in the race, was fifth aboard Milansbar, while there were 12 finishers from 38 starters. Saint Are, who was brought down at the Chair, was taken to the racecourse stables for assessment and later reported to be in a stable condition. There were no further reports of injuries to horses or riders .

Elliott and O’Leary were enjoying their second victories in the National, following Elliott’s success with Silver Birch in 2007 – the first winner of his training career – and O’Leary’s win with Rule The World two years ago. Russell, one of the weighing room’s veterans, was winning for the first time, at the 14th attempt.

“We were celebrating at the Elbow, and panicking at the line,” O’Leary said. “It was pretty close there at the finish. Tiger Roll is extraordinary. I did not think he would handle those fences because he is so small.

“We first noticed Gordon when he first won the National [in 2007]. Until then we’d never heard of him before. But it was when he started racking up loads of winners, taking crappy horses in boxes to Ayr and Perth and places like that because he couldn’t win races, we thought, this is something different. We’re in a golden age in Ireland, and we’re keeping a lot of the best horses. It may turn in the next few years and while we win we should enjoy it.”

Tiger Roll’s owner Michael O’Leary savours the victory as trainer Gordon Elliott, right, looks on.
Tiger Roll’s owner Michael O’Leary savours the victory as trainer Gordon Elliott, right, looks on. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/Observer

O’Leary was referring to the 1-2‑3-4 for Irish-trained horses here, following a Cheltenham Festival last month that was, once again, dominated by Elliott and Mullins. Elliott was the leading trainer at jumping’s biggest meeting for the second year running and is in pole position to finally beat Mullins and claim Ireland’s title for the first time.

“I’ve said before that I didn’t appreciate it the first time,” Elliott said, “but I’ll definitely appreciate it now.”


Greg Wood at Aintree

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