Rus­sell breaks Na­tional duck in thrilling Ain­tree show­piece

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - CHRIS COOK

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.

Photo: Alex Livesey

Davy Rus­sell cel­e­brates af­ter rid­ing Tiger Roll to vic­tory in yes­ter­day’s Grand Na­tional at Ain­tree.

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