The Grand National’s Weighty Matters
Amid all the excitement as we draw ever closer to the Randox Health Grand National at Aintree on the first Saturday in April, the question of whether or not the outstanding Tiger Roll can land the race for a third successive time is understandably on everyone’s lips.
We know Tiger Roll is a great horse who clearly loves Aintree and the challenge of the big spruce fences no less than he loves his other great stomping ground at the Cheltenham Festival, but both he and his Gordon Elliott-trained stable companion Delta Work have to overcome joint-top weight of 11st 10lb – and that’s something no horse has managed to achieve since a certain legend named Red Rum carried 12 stones to victory in 1974.
Indeed, you have to go back as far as Freebooter’s triumph under 11st 11lb in 1950 to find any other horse to have carried more than both Tiger Roll and Delta Work will be saddled with on April 4.
Weight can stop even the greatest of horses
Weight matters. There’s no two ways about it. Of course, Many Clouds put up a quite superb performance under 11st 9lb to win back in 2015 on good to soft ground, a decent racing surface that certainly increases the chance of highly-weighted horses getting home. In soft or heavy conditions, each of those pounds above 11 stones feels like double, so the prospect of either of Elliott’s Gigginstown House Stud-owned stars humping 11st 10lb to victory would more than likely be enhanced if the sun shines in the days leading up to the marathon, and diminished should the current particularly wet winter continue into early spring.
Suny Bay’s brave effort should not be forgotten
Probably the most memorable effort in recent memory of a horse going close to matching Red Rum’s weight-carrying feat of 1974 came back in 1998 when the high-class grey Suny Bay, trained by Charlie Brooks, winner of that season’s Hennessy Gold Cup, carried a massive 12 stones into second place behind Earth Summit, just 16 days after finishing fifth to Cool Dawn in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. That was a terrific performance, especially as it came on soft ground.
The fact the Grand National distance has been reduced from 4m 4f to to 4m 2f and 74 yards certainly gives those planning to support either of the joint-top weights a little more hope they can break the 46-year run since Red Rum’s second National win under that huge burden.
Roll has to defy 11lb rise in handicap mark
When Tiger Roll won his first Grand National back in 2018, he carried 10st 13lb to victory in heavy ground, running on bravely to deny the gallant Pleasant Company by just a head. He was saddled with 11st 5lb last year and backed up that first success with another superb display on good to soft ground. It can reasonably be argued his chance was enhanced by not having to carry such a weight in heavy ground, as he did the previous year when he was being closed down with every stride and just managed to hang on.
This time he is officially rated 11lb higher than 2019 and will carry 11st 10lb. The handicapper has taken the view Tiger Roll has improved year-on-year – and it’s hard to argue with that assessment. But top weight and testing ground will be a bigger challenge to the son of Authorized than the famous 30 National fences, something punters would be wise to bear in mind.
Delta Work best on a decent surface
For his part, Delta Work’s profile suggests he is a better horse on a fairly decent surface although he has won on soft ground in his time. He has been victorious twice at Leopardstown this term when landing both the Grade 1 Savill’s Chase in December and the Grade 1 Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup over the same three-mile course and distance earlier this month, with both races coming on yielding ground.
Yet to race beyond three miles, the gelded son of Network has to prove his stamina over the extra mile-and-a-quarter. Under his big weight, there would have to be a question mark over him seeing out the trip if the ground comes up soft.
All in all, when it comes to assessing whether either of Gordon Elliott’s stars are up to carrying 11st 10lb to Grand National victory, the combination of the weight and the ground conditions has to seriously be taken into consideration.
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