London – Tiger Roll, the smallest horse in the race, and Davy Russell, at 38 the oldest jockey, held on to claim a dramatic victory in the Randox Health Grand National at Aintree on Saturday.
Trainer Gordon Elliott’s eight-year-old started as the 10-1 third favourite and just held on to deny the fast-finishing Pleasant Company in a photo-finish decision.
Tiger Roll landed his third Cheltenham Festival success in the Cross-Country Chase last month, to go with previous victories in the Triumph Hurdle and National Hunt Chase.
Russell cut a confident figure throughout the 6800m contest and cruised to the front in the home straight.
But just when he looked to have victory sewn up, the Willie Mullins-trained Pleasant Company, who had been ridden prominently and jumped boldly, came with a late rattle to almost join him on the line.
Bless The Wings, the winner’s stablemate, was third and Anibale Fly fourth, as Irish runners dominated.
Russell dedicated his victory to leading Flat jockey Pat Smullen, who was diagnosed with a tumour last month.
He said of his mount: “I was afraid he wouldn’t take to it as he’s very economical with his jumping. They’ve done a marvellous job with this horse. This one is for Pat Smullen. I was speaking to him the other morning and he’s as tough as nails. I really don’t know what to say.”
Elliott added: “It’s unbelievable. Tiger Roll is a yard favourite. It’s great for the yard, for Gigginstown (House Stud, the owners), for everyone.”
Elliott launched his career when Silver Birch became his first-ever winner as a trainer in the 2007 Grand National.
Gigginstown House Stud, led by Ryanair supremo Michael O’Leary, won the Grand National two years ago with Rule The World.
Pleasant Company, ridden by Rule The World’s partner David Mullins, jumped with elan on the front end, but looked booked for minor honours when Tiger Roll strode clear. But the leader began to falter as the post loomed and Pleasant Company was finishing like a train. There was just a head between them at the line.
Bryony Frost, riding in the race for the first time, fared best of the three female jockeys, coming home fifth aboard the Neil King-trained Milansbar. Katie Walsh on Baie Des Iles finished 12th and last. Only 12 of the 38 starters completed the marathon journey. – sportinglife