Tiger Roll participation in genuine doubt as O’Leary voices warning

Tiger Roll at Stable

Gordon Elliott Stable Visit – Cullentra House: Two time Grand National winner Tiger Roll with trainer Gordon Elliott and groom Louise Magee during the stable visit to Gordon Elliott’s yard at Cullentra House, Co. Meath. Brian Lawless/PA Images/Ritzau Scanpix

If there is one thing racing fans have learned where Michael O’Leary is concerned it is that he is a man of his word.

In 2017 he famously withdrew the vast majority of his Gigginstown House Stud owned entries from the Grand National blaming then chief BHA handicapper Phil Smith for what he believed to be unfair treatment of the Irish entries for the race.

Having won the race the year before with Rule The World, Eddie O’Leary, the Gigginstown racing manager, explained the thinking in 2017.

He said: “Our problem is not how Phil handicaps the horses – it’s that he won’t publish the ratings. He can rate them as he sees fit, but why not publish the ratings, so that everything is above board and open? That’s our one and only point.

“It appears to be a cloak-and-dagger handicap at the moment. Phil’s said in recent years he wanted to encourage the better horses in but he’s pushed them out this year. Don Poli was born for a Grand National.”

Gigginstown still summoned up five runners that year but none of Rogue Angel, Roi Des Francs, Measureofmydreams, Thunder And Roses and Wounded Warrior were able to play important roles; only Roi Des Francs actually finished and he was 18th of 19 to do so.

Fast forward to 2018 with no such issues again Gigginstown managed five runners with Tiger Roll providing the team a second National success as he got up narrowly to beat Pleasant Company when leading home an Irish 1-2-3-4 for trainer Gordon Elliott and jockey Davy Russell. In following up in 2019 Tiger Roll became the first back-to-back National winner since the legendary Red Rum all the way back in 1974.

Although he missed his first intended engagement of the season Tiger Roll is fit and well and on course for a third Cheltenham Cross Country Chase in March. He isn’t though necessarily on course for April and the National.

Michael O’Leary has said on many occasions including in the winner’s enclosure a year ago that his participation in 2020 was doubtful and as the entries were announced last week he used the opportunity to expand on his thinking.

“Whether Tiger Roll runs in the Grand National or not very much depends on the handicapper. We’re not playing games, not at all,” he said.

“See More Business was compressed 8lb in 2001, Exotic Dancer was compressed 8lb in 2009, and in 2010 Alberta’s Run was 5lb lower.

“More recently, Synchronised in 2012 was 6lb lower, in 2013 Tidal Bay was compressed 11lb and the following year by 7lb.

“In 2015 Carlingford Lough was compressed 5lb and Bristol De Mai was 5lb lower last year. What does that tell you?”

Throwing the ball firmly in the handicapper’s court, O’Leary added: “We would love to see Tiger there. Racing would love to have him, as would Aintree, so it’s up to the BHA now. They’ve compressed the race by 8lb on average for the past ten years.”

Tiger Roll was rated 150 and carried 10st 13lb when landing his first Grand National success in 2018, and followed up off a mark of 159 last spring, carrying 11st 5lb to victory. Now rated 172 over fences, he is set to carry top weight in the iconic race for the first time in April.

He explained: “I have a figure in my head but I’m not going to mention it. If he hits that figure he runs and if he doesn’t he won’t be running.

“They’ve given every other top weight a chance and we have a little sensation on our hands who we’ve been very open about and the fact he will not be asked to run in the race if the weights aren’t compressed.”

O’Leary added: “We don’t mind carrying top weight, that’s a given, but the weights will need to be compressed in order for Tiger Roll to run.”

Currently rated 172, Tiger Roll would be asked for arguably the greatest handicap performance in history to win off that mark. Of course as O’Leary says ‘compression’ is now the norm regarding the higher rated horses in the National but that is often with Gold Cup horses tackling Aintree as an afterthought. Some compression probably will be applied but chief handicapper Martin Greenwood has said the “only reason” to drop Tiger Roll below his official mark was if the Grand National form did not work out.

In short O’Leary is simply not going to get anywhere near the 8lb compression he has mentioned. Greenwood must decide on a figure between that quoted number and 172 and that number will then be debated by the O’Learys. At this stage his participation is at best 50-50.

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