Russell breaks National duck in thrilling Aintree showpiece
TIGER Roll clung on to win an incident-packed Grand National dominated by Irish runners, going clear on the run-in but then almost being reeled in by Pleasant Company. It is a second success in the race for the trainer Gordon Elliott and a first for the popular veteran jockey Davy Russell.
The finish turned into another struggle between Elliott and his great rival, Willie Mullins, trainer of the runner-up. Tiger Roll’s victory at 10-1 was being hailed by the crowd before cheers turned to anxious cries as the horse got tired or began to idle.
“I was bloody panicking at the line,” said the winning owner Michael O’Leary, who famously described Tiger Roll as “a little rat of a thing”. The horse is now a National winner in addition to having won three different Cheltenham Festival races. “I think I’ve adopted him now as my fifth child,” O’Leary added.
Russell, 38, was once sacked as O’Leary’s principal jockey but continued to ride so well that he was taken back into the fold. He appeared to lose a stirrup at an early stage of the second circuit and reached down to recover it.
David Mullins, the jockey who so nearly pulled victory out of the fire on Pleasant Company, was philosophical in defeat and said he never thought he quite had time to get there. He rode Rule The World to win the race two years ago.
Pleasant Company 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.
The drama began at the first fence, where the much-fancied Blaklion was among the fallers. Becher’s Brook was bypassed on the second circuit, with vets apparently treating a horse on the landing side after a fall on the first circuit.
Elliott’s Bless The Wings stayed on to be third at the age of 13. Anibale Fly finished fourth, making it a 1-2-3-4 for Irish runners.
Russell dedicated his victory to leading Flat jockey Pat Smullen, who was diagnosed with a tumour last month.
“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,” Russell said.
Elliott added: “It’s unbelievable. Tiger Roll is a yard favourite. It’s great for the yard, for Gigginstown [House Stud, owners], for everyone.”
Elliott launched his career when Silver Birch became his first winner as a trainer in the 2007 Grand National.
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.
Davy Russell celebrates after riding Tiger Roll to victory in yesterday’s Grand National at Aintree.