When the record-breaking Red Rum became the last racehorse to win back-to-back Grand Nationals in 1974, it was shortly after a song called Tiger Feet had topped the charts.
Now the diminutive Tiger Roll has his own place in sporting folklore after emulating ‘Rummy’ with a second triumph in the world’s most famous race. That’s neat, that Tiger feat.
Jockey Davy Russell calls racing’s latest little legend “a rock star”, and this remarkable triumph at Aintree for Irish trainer Gordon Elliott will be another victory that is talked about for decades.
With 40 runners, 30 fences and more than four-and-a-quarter miles, the National is the ultimate test for horses and riders.
To win one is a dream. To do it twice is a fairytale.
And a 70,000 crowd at the Merseyside track – never mind an estimated 500 million people who follow the contest worldwide – basked in the occasion. This was one of sport’s “I was there” moments.
As Tiger Roll – who travelled so sweetly, bar a couple of jumping hiccups, through this marathon test – was brought back to an ecstatic winner’s enclosure, crowds 15 or 20 deep gathered to see the celebrations.
Three cheers went up for the horse. Elliott cried tears of joy, Russell could not wait to talk through the triumph with his kids, and owner Michael O’Leary was in shock.
“Everyone loves him. He is the people’s horse. I cannot believe it,” said Elliott, a trainer with no big family background in racing, who has masterfully guided the winner’s career.
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- Story behind Tiger Roll’s emotional 2018 win
The stats – how the Tiger roared
Sent off the 4-1 favourite, he is the shortest-priced winner since Poethlyn in 1919.
Tiger Roll is the fifth back-to-back winner in 172 runnings of the race. Before Red Rum, it was last achieved by Reynoldstown just before World War Two.
Elliott, who won his first National with Silver Birch in 2007, is the first trainer to saddle three winners since Tim Forster with Well To Do (1972), Ben Nevis (1980) and Last Suspect (1985).
It was a joint record third win – all in the last four years – for Tiger Roll’s owners Gigginstown House Stud, which is headed by Michael O’Leary and his brother Eddie. Their first victory came with Rule The World in 2016.
Tiger Roll was really bred to race on the flat, rather than over jumps, as a son of Authorized, the 2007 Derby winner at Epsom.
He has won four times at the Cheltenham Festival – in the Triumph Hurdle, National Hunt Chase and Cross Country Chase (twice).
Tiger Roll’s dam (mum) was Swiss Roll, a horse trained by Tommy Stack – the man who rode Red Rum to his historic third National victory.
A new star for racing
Davy Russell’s four children followed the triumph from home, including his three-year-old son Finn, who is “obsessed” with Tiger Roll.
“He thinks this is so easy, because he’s watched two Grand Nationals in his life and I’ve won both of them on Tiger Roll,” said the 39-year-old rider.
Neither he nor 41-year-old Elliott were born when Red Rum strutted his stuff at the Merseyside track, winning twice, finishing second twice and then claiming a third success in 1977.
“In Ireland, people who have never seen a horse in their life know Tiger Roll,” said Russell.
“The people adore him – he’s not a big, fine, good-looking horse, but at home people walk past his stable and say hello to him as if he’s a human being. It’s just unreal.
“I know it’s silly, but I believe he knows his name. Going to the start, when we were parading, the commentator said his name and he stood up and put his chest out. Louise who was leading him up noticed it, too. He’s so intelligent.”
There was a sad footnote to the race, however, when it was confirmed that Up For Review, trained by Willie Mullins, had suffered a fatal injury when brought down at the first fence.
Aintree will review the incident despite this being the first fatality for six years in the race, which has seen more than 270 horses compete in that time.
Journeyman jockey to master trainer
Those edged out by the winner were quick to salute Elliott, a one-time journeyman jockey who is proving to be a training great.
Fellow trainer Jessica Harrington embraced him after her gallant mare Magic Of Light defied odds of 66-1 to finish second under Paddy Kennedy, beaten by just under three lengths.
Ronnie Bartlett, the owner of third-placed Rathvinden, ridden by Ruby Walsh, had tears in his eyes as he offered his congratulations.
Elliott, who clearly picked up a tip or two when riding for record-breaking trainer Martin Pipe, says racehorses are his life.
His main concession to anything outside the racing bubble is his devotion to the Australian TV soap Home and Away.
Whether at home in Ireland or ‘away’ in England, he is a fierce competitor who saddled a record 11 runners in this year’s Grand National, one more than his mentor Pipe ran in 2001.
“If any of the 11 horses had won, it would have been great, but Tiger is a bit special,” said the man from Summerhill in County Meath.
“The stats were against him, and we were hoping and wishing and praying he could win, but I thought it was probably impossible.
“Hopefully he will now get the recognition he deserves and go down as one of the greats.”
He suggested Tiger Roll should be next in line to be honoured at O’Leary’s house in Westmeath, where the airline boss already has statues of his Cheltenham Gold Cup winners War Of Attrition and Don Cossack.
Meanwhile, the owner honoured the trainer with a glowing tribute.
“Gordon is the answer to everyone else who says you need to have luck or relations or money,” said O’Leary. “He proves you just need to work incredibly hard, and he delivers extraordinary results.”
Flying high – the airline tycoon
O’Leary cuts a different figure at racecourses to the character some might see as brash when talking about his budget airline Ryanair.
He is approachable and funny, and was convinced beforehand that the 6lb extra weight that Tiger Roll was allotted this year could scupper his chances.
“It really feels like an out-of-body experience,” he said afterwards, insisting this was a “great day” rather than Groundhog Day.
“Eddie my brother buys these horses and you look across the record he has over the last 10 years – we’ve won two Gold Cups, three Grand Nationals, four Irish Grand Nationals.
“My brother is a genius, the clever one in the family at identifying these horses. All I have to do is write the cheques, which is straightforward. Eddie is delivering incredible success.
“But money couldn’t buy you days like this – I have four children at home jumping up and down on the sofa cheering on Tiger Roll.”
Famed for his parsimony in business – he once threatened to charge passengers for using the toilets on his planes – he was ready to push the boat out after Saturday’s triumph.
“The Ryanair flight home last year ran 30 minutes late and there was a free bar on board – it will probably run another 30 minutes late again today and there will be another free bar on board,” he said.
“If the cost of winning the Grand National each year is a free bar on board on the flight from Liverpool to Dublin, it is money well spent.”
When the trainer was asked to sum up his stable star in the immediate aftermath, Elliott was almost overcome, shook his head and just said “Tiger”.
After the horse was cooled down with buckets of water, he was checked over in a special area behind the grandstand. Punters queued for selfies with the gelding, while social media roared its approval with tiger emojis.
Russell had earlier posed for photos with a boisterous group of Glaswegian racegoers, all wearing Tiger-themed suits.
The jockey and a trainer who knows how to party will surely record another high-spirited rendition of a chart-topper they sang to Tiger Roll in his stable last year.
That was Roar by Katy Perry and the video was widely shared on social media – a tribute to racing’s own superstar. Rock ‘n’ Roll.