Final call for Tiger Roll as O’Leary rules out Aintree return

Last Updated 17 Mar 2022 | By Enda McElhinney | Commercial content | 18+ | Play Responsibly | T&C Apply | Wagering

Gigginstown House Stud boss Michael O’Leary wasted little time in declaring that two-time Grand National hero Tiger Roll won’t contest the race on April 9th this year.

Tiger Roll won the great race in 2018 and 2019 – famously becoming the first horse since Red Rum in the 1970s to win back-to-back renewals of the Aintree showpiece.

He was denied a chance to go for the hat-trick in 2020 when the race was abandoned due to the Covid-19 pandemic, while last year, O’Leary protested the handicapper had given him too much weight based on more recent performances and decided to skip the race.

Instead, Tiger Roll was sent out in the Grade 1 Betway Bowl at Aintree last spring, where he finished tailed off as Clan Des Obeaux won easily for the Paul Nicholls yard.

December disappointment in Many Clouds

In December, Tiger Roll made his seasonal comeback at Aintree, being pulled up in the Grade 2 Many Clouds Chase won by Protektorat. He’s had one more run since, down the field in a hurdles race at Navan in January.

British Horseracing Authority chief handicapper Martin Greenwood put Tiger Roll on a mark of 161, set to see him carrying 11st 4lb, when the weights were announced for the 2022 Grand National at a ceremony in Liverpool on Tuesday.

Trainer Gordon Elliott was there and initially suggested connections would wait and see how Tiger Roll performed in next month’s Cross Country race at Cheltenham before a decision was made, but O’Leary soon flew in with the news that Tiger Roll won’t be going to Aintree.

Gigginstown’s Irish Gold Cup winner Conflated is the joint-top weight in the race, and O’Leary says he’s not running either, which may push Tiger Roll’s weight up, and the Ryanair supremo was quick to launch a scathing rebuttal towards the handicapper.

‘Ridiculous rating and unfair weight’ – O’Leary

In a statement released on Tuesday evening, O’ Leary lambasted the rating allotted to the now 12-year-old, strangely opting to bring the welfare of his horse into question.

“This rating is absurd and unfair on a 12-year-old chaser. It is a pity that the handicapper won’t give Tiger Roll either a fair rating or a fair weight in the Grand National, where he could at least try to emulate Red Rum’s three Grand National wins,” said the O’Leary statement.

“However, the handicapper sets the weights, and even if he is manifestly wrong in the case of Tiger Roll, there is nothing we can do about it other than remove him from the race since we don’t believe it is fair or safe to ask him to carry close to top weight at the age of 12.

“Since the top two horses in the handicap won’t run at Aintree this year, Tiger Roll will have to carry either 11st 8lb, or 11st 9lb at the age of 12, which is three years after he carried 11st 5lb at the age of nine to win the great race in April 2019.”

Citing the welfare concern, O’Leary added: “Since we are responsible for the welfare of Tiger Roll, we must protect him from the idiotic opinion of this handicapper. We, therefore, regret to announce that he will not run in this year’s Grand National.”

Cheltenham Festival swansong instead

O’Leary has confirmed that the plan is now to have a fond farewell at Cheltenham next month in the Cross Country race, where Tiger Roll will also carry 11st 4lb on his back in his quest to win that race for the fourth time.

It would also be a record-equalling sixth Cheltenham Festival win for a horse that has enjoyed a remarkable career so far and firmly secured for himself a place in the hearts and minds of racing fans the length and breadth of Britain and Ireland.

In concluding, O’Leary suggested the Grand National will be a lesser spectacle without Tiger Roll.

“Tiger Roll will be trained for the Cross Country at Cheltenham, and there is every likelihood that win, lose or draw, this will be his last racecourse appearance,” he added. “He will then return home for his well-earned retirement here in Gigginstown for the rest of his days.

“It’s sadly clear from his ratings that this handicapper doesn’t want Tiger Roll to run in this year’s Grand National, he won’t give him a fair chance, and sadly, the race will be the poorer for his absence.”

Enda McElhinney

Enda McElhinney is a racing writer with a growing portfolio of work on both British and Irish racing, with a particular fondness for National Hunt racing. While he acknowledges there have been many great runners; there has only ever been one Denman.

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