Gigginstown 'not playing games' over Tiger Roll's Grand National participation
Eddie O'Leary has warned that Tiger Roll will need to be treated similarly to previous Grand National topweights if he is to contest the Aintree showpiece, and insisted he and his brother Michael are not playing games with the handicapper.
Tiger Roll has won the world's most famous chase for the last two years and another success on April 4 would equal the record set by the legendary Red Rum, who took the National three times between 1973 and 1977. On Wednesday, 105 entries were confirmed for the Randox Health-sponsored event, for which Tiger Roll is the general 5-1 favourite.
In November Michael O’Leary declared the prospects of Tiger Roll getting the opportunity to fulfil his destiny were between "slim and none" if the handicapper didn't give him sufficient leeway.
Now, his brother has doubled down on that, focusing on how the majority of topweights have been handled – and given lower weights than their official marks – throughout the past decade.
O’Leary said of the Gigginstown House Stud-owned star: “Whether Tiger Roll runs in the Grand National or not very much depends on the handicapper. We're not playing games, not at all.
“See More Business was compressed 8lb in 2001, Exotic Dancer was compressed 8lb in 2009, and in 2010 Alberta's Run was 5lb lower.
“More recently, Synchronised in 2012 was 6lb lower, in 2013 Tidal Bay was compressed 11lb and the following year by 7lb.
“In 2015 Carlingford Lough was compressed 5lb and Bristol De Mai was 5lb lower last year. What does that tell you?”
Throwing the ball firmly in the handicapper’s court, O’Leary added: “We would love to see Tiger there. Racing would love to have him, as would Aintree, so it's up to the BHA now. They've compressed the race by 8lb on average for the past ten years.”
Tiger Roll was rated 150 and carried 10st 13lb when landing his first Grand National success in 2018, and followed up off a mark of 159 last spring, carrying 11st 5lb to victory. Now rated 172 over fences, he is set to carry top weight in the iconic race for the first time in April.
O’Leary would not be drawn on what mark he and brother Michael would deem acceptable enough to allow Tiger Roll to run in the race, but insisted he would not be risked if not treated fairly.
He explained: “I have a figure in my head but I'm not going to mention it. If he hits that figure he runs and if he doesn't he won't be running.
“They've given every other topweight a chance and we have a little sensation on our hands who we've been very open about and the fact he will not be asked to run in the race if the weights aren't compressed.”
O’Leary added: “We don't mind carrying top weight, that's a given, but the weights will need to be compressed in order for Tiger Roll to run.”
Tiger Roll had been the subject of an injury scare early in the season but is understood to be back in rude health at Gordon Elliott’s Cullentra House stables.
However, according to O’Leary, connections are more hopeful than confident that jump racing's star will return in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan on February 16, a race in which he was an ultra-impressive winner 12 months ago.
O’Leary concluded: “He's back galloping and Gordon seems to be very happy with him. We're hoping he makes the Boyne Hurdle and, if not, we'll go straight to Cheltenham for the cross-country race.”
Of the 105 horses entered in the £1 million contest, 18 are trained by Elliott, who made 22 entries in 2019 and ended up with 11 runners on the day.
A surprise entry is the Trevor Hemmings-owned Vintage Clouds, who has seemed not to take to the National course in two previous ventures and whose lack of affinity for the track was mentioned after he won the recent Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock.
But trainer Sue Smith said: "After careful consideration we have decided to enter Vintage Clouds for the Grand National.
"Having discussed it at length with Mr Hemmings, we decided that having won the Peter Marsh so well it was worth keeping our options open.
"He has slightly struggled over the Aintree fences, particularly in the Becher, but he jumped superbly in the Peter Marsh and has come out of the race very well."
Paul Nicholls, who has six entries in a race he won with Neptune Collonges in 2012, picked out recent Taunton winner Yala Enki and Give Me A Copper, who took the Badger Beers Trophy at Wincanton in November, as his likely main hopes.
"Yala Enki is a real stayer and I've always thought he'd be a National horse," the trainer said.
"Give Me A Copper goes well fresh, as he did at Wincanton, and we're not going to run him beforehand."
Last season's ten-length bet365 Gold Cup winner Talkischeap remains on course for Aintree despite not having raced since finishing a remote third behind Santini at Sandown in November.
"He never really travelled that day and we've had him hobdayed since," trainer Alan King said in his Racing Post Weekender column.
"That operation has not cost him any opportunities as he would not have been racing on the very soft ground anyway.
"He's back cantering and ready to start going into stronger work but he won't be ready to run for a while. The National is his target and he'll have a prep race somewhere."
The weights for the Grand National will be unveiled at a ceremony in Liverpool on February 11.
Grand National in numbers
105 Grand National entries
45 Entries trained in Ireland
2 Entries trained in France
18 Entries trained by Gordon Elliott
10 Entries trained by Willie Mullins
2 Former Grand National winners entered (One For Arthur and Tiger Roll)
2 Former Cheltenham Gold Cup winners entered (Native River and Sizing John – now ruled out for season)
Grand National eyecatchers
Taking risks is what the Grand National is all about but Takingrisks is among the least dubious of the entries unveiled on Wednesday.
He showed in the Scottish Grand National last spring and again in the Rehearsal Chase in December that he is just what you need for Aintree, a sound jumper and a thorough stayer.
The 11-year-old is still on the up and is sure to be readied to peak on April 4 by Nicky Richards, whose father Gordon won the great race twice. David Carr
One horse that will fly under the radar but deserves the utmost respect is Snugsborough Benny.
Liam Cusack is a dab hand at placing his horses and is understood to be gearing his season around Aintree, which is a tip in itself.
Should Tiger Roll run, Snugsborough Benny would carry less than 10st and he represents massive each-way value at 50-1. Brian Sheerin
Former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Native River adds a touch of class and some spice to the Aintree spectacular and he would definitely be of interest if lining up on April 4.
His connections have a return to Cheltenham a month earlier higher on their agenda, and much will hinge on how he fares at the festival.
But the prospect of seeing him take on the Aintree fences is a tantalising thought. Andrew King
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