The Grand National weights will be announced on Tuesday, February 11 in Liverpool and the major topic for debate is the weight the handicapper gives Tiger Roll. The horse has a shot at sporting immortality, but the owners have hinted Tiger Roll is not a definite starter. Only Red Rum has won the National three times and not in consecutive years.
Tiger Roll won the race in 2018 and 2019 and the racing world would love to see the horse try to make history. Red Rum won the National in 1973, 1974 and 1977 and was second in 1975 and 1976. Rummy was entered in 1978 but suffered an injury a week before the race and was withdrawn. It was a relief to bookmakers because the payout for a fourth win would have been huge.
Tiger Roll is owned by Gigginstown House Stud, whose boss is Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary. The racing manager is his brother Eddie, who has said Tiger Roll will only run in the National if the weights are compressed. However, Martin Greenwood, the handicapper, has suggested Tiger Roll could carry the top weight of 11-10.
The compression of the weights was introduced because horses above a certain rating did not have a realistic chance of winning the National. For example, a horse that was good enough to run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup would be weighted out of the National. Tiger Roll has an official rating of 172, but no horse has run in the National carrying an equivalent weight.
The handicapper has a difficult job because there are 40 runners in the National and every entry must have a fighting chance of winning the race. The O’Learys are asking for a fair weight, but for them that means Tiger Roll running off eight pounds lower than his rating. That could be seen as virtually handing the horse a third National.
The owners and handicapper are some distance apart and racing fans hope there is a compromise. Tiger Roll improved by 10 pounds to win his second National and if he was allocated 11-10 the horse would have to show the same improvement to complete the historic treble. That weight would put Tiger Roll in Gold Cup class and he is some way of that mark.
There is a recent precedent for top weights to be given a compressed mark. The handicapper could give Tiger Roll some leeway, but connections still may claim the allocation is not fair. Their horse is a dual winner of the National and is perfectly suited to the fences and course. O’Leary claims the average compression over the last 10 years is eight pounds, but this is not correct.
In fact, since 2010 the average compression of the weights is four and a half pounds. Over the last four years, that figure drops to only two and a half pounds. However, Tiger Roll has exceptional course form and has won races at the last four Cheltenham Festivals. The compromise would be a compression of four pounds, but this could be much lower than the O’Learys are expecting. If push comes to shove, would they swallow their pride and let Tiger Roll run in the 2020 Grand National?