The proverbial did not quite hit the fan, but the owners of Tiger Roll are not happy with the weights for the 2020 Grand National. As a result of Tuesday’s handicap unveiling in Liverpool, Eddie O’Leary for the Gigginstown House Stud now claims the horse is only an even-money shot to take part. The racing world is pleading with connections to swallow their pride and give the horse a shot at immortality, but the waters are muddied because of the character of the owners.
As everybody in racing and much of the wider public knows, Tiger Roll would become the first horse to win three Grand Nationals in three years. Red Rum is the only three-time winner of the race, but his wins were in 1973, 1974 and 1977. The horse finished second in 1975 and 1976, losing out to well-weighted horses. In 1975 Red Rum was only beaten by L’Escargot, which won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1970 and 1971. The 1976 winner, Rag Trade, was thrown in at the weights.
It is also common knowledge in racing that Eddie O’Leary’s brother is Michael, the founder and CEO of Ryanair. In business his head rules his heart and he is strictly a numbers man. He could be having an internal battle about Tiger Roll running in the National because the horse’s allotted rating gives him a mountain to climb. The first reaction to the weights is that Tiger Roll will struggle to achieve the third win, especially giving weight to 2018 Gold Cup winner Native River.
The Grand National is a handicap and each runner carries between 10-00 and 11-10. Tiger Roll has been given joint-top weight with Delta Work, a leading contender for the Gold Cup. However, the weights have not been compressed enough to appease the owners. The bone of contention is carrying more weight than Native River. That discrepancy suggests Tiger Roll is a Gold Cup horse, but he would be an outsider if running in the race this year.
It is debatable whether Eddie O’Leary is correct in his assessment that Tiger Roll is on an unfair rating. The horse has shown better overall form in cross country races than regulation chases over park fences. However, the reality is that Tiger Roll has been rated as a Gold Cup horse and his latest form in a normal chase would leave him out with the washing after one circuit of Cheltenham.
Eddie O’Leary’s immediate comments raised a big question mark about Tiger Roll’s participation in this year’s National.
“We obviously would love to see Tiger Roll to go for three in a row, but we’re very vocal about the fact that it [the handicap] has to be compressed. It’s only been compressed 1lb, which is a bit silly, so therefore we have a decision to make. The welfare of the horse we feel is far more important to us than the race,” he said.
Tiger Roll is trained by Gordon Elliott, who does not have the same hard-headed business approach to racing as the O’Leary brothers. He would probably want Tiger Roll to run in the National even with him on board, and he would be definitely carrying some overweight. The dynamic between the trainer and owners could be the deciding factor. The O’Learys say Tiger Roll is 50-50 to defend his title at Aintree, but the true odds are more like -500.