Gordon Elliott’s outstanding season continued with success in Saturday’s Grand National, thanks to his diminutive equine star, Tiger Roll.
The eight-year-old is a three-time winner at the Cheltenham Festival and arrived at Aintree having recently captured the Cross-Country at Prestbury Park. The trainer had used the same prep for Silver Birch, before capturing his first National in 2007. And just last year, Cause Of Causes romped home in the Cross-Country prior to a runner-up finish in the ‘big one’ at Aintree.
And so, it was no surprise that the tried and tested plan was put into operation again. With Cheltenham conquered, the question for many was whether Aintree’s prodigious fences would prove too much of an obstacle for a horse lacking somewhat in stature.
Such concerns proved unfounded, with Davy Russell given a dream ride aboard a foot-perfect staying chaser. Positioned just behind the leaders for much of the marathon contest, Russell made a forward move heading for the second-last fence, taking up the running from long-time leader Pleasant Company. At the last, he appeared to make the winning manoeuvre, stretching some five-lengths clear by the elbow. In true dramatic Grand National fashion, Tiger Roll’s petrol tank began to run empty and Pleasant Company finished with a rare old rattle. At the line, just a head separated the pair.
The front duo were 11-lengths clear of third-placed Bless The Wings, also trained by Gordon Elliott. Whilst Anibale Fly ran a cracker under the burden of 11-8 to finish a neck further back in fourth.
Elliott was clearly thrilled to win his second Grand National and said: “I was nervous. I thought I had it, but you're so nervous watching it. I said I didn't appreciate it first-time round. I'm definitely going to appreciate it now. It's great for my family and everyone at home. He's an unbelievable horse. I was really worried about the ground. All the way round I couldn't believe how he was going. It's unbelievable for Davy Russell. He's lost his mother and I'm sure his father Gerry is very proud at home watching.
“Coming after the Cheltenham we had, we didn't dare dream this. We only beat him (Mullins) last week in the Irish National and now we've beaten him again, I can't believe it. Having to beat Willie is tough, he's an amazing man and sets the standards, one of the greatest of all time and to be training at the same time as him is unbelievable.”
Of being beaten a head, in the world’s most famous race, Mullins said: “That’s twice Gordon has done that to me, he did it in the Irish National too. He (Pleasant Company) seemed to get a little bit tired and then get a second wind. I never actually thought he’d got back up, but he ran a fantastic race. He jumped from fence to fence and you couldn’t ask for any better. He was only beaten a head and at the last fence I thought we were going to be beaten eight or 10 lengths. I’m really proud of him, he jumped fantastic and he’s one for next year.”
Gigginstown were winning the Aintree showpiece for the second time in three years, and following a successful Cheltenham Festival, Michael O’Leary looked rather pleased: “We were panicking at the line. It was a well-judged ride by Davy. It’s a phenomenal training feat by Gordon. We bought him for the Triumph, which he won. But then to win the Cross-Country, the four-miler and now the world’s greatest steeplechase is phenomenal. It’s beyond my wildest dreams.”
Mullins and Elliott continue to battle for the trainers’ crown in Ireland, with the latter currently more than €500,000 ahead. However, the situation was similar going into the Punchestown Festival a year ago. On that occasion it was Willie Mullins who finished the stronger, with numerous victories and placed finishes, including a success for Wicklow Brave in the Champion Hurdle which proved pivotal.
In little more than a week the pair will again lock horns for the season finale, with the title in the balance. Elliott has edged-out his rival several times so far this winter and will hope to do the same for one final historic success.