Despite being a ‘little rat of a thing’, to quote owner Eddie O’Leary, Tiger Roll confirmed his status as one of the best long-distance horses of all time with a second Grand National victory at Aintree.
The nine-year-old belied a 11-05 handicap to win by more than two lengths from Magic of Light, and in doing so he became the first back-to-back Grand National winner since Red Rum in 1973-74.
As we discussed in our piece on Grand National betting favourites, it’s a rare occurrence for the favourite with the bookies to actually win the great race: only three horses in the past 20 years had achieved the feat prior to Tiger Roll’s win.
Here’s a look back at Tiger Roll’s triumph, and a guide to the other horses that have achieved consecutive Grand National successes.
List of Back to Back Grand National Winners
|First Win (SP)
|Second Win (SP)
|2019 (4/1 F)
|1973 (9/1 JF)
|1870 (7/2 F)
Tiger Roll (2018 & 2019)
Despite some outstanding form at Cheltenham, there are those who had wagered that Tiger Roll might be too small to really excel in the Aintree showpiece.
But he kicked those notions to the kerb with a powerhouse display in 2018. Running prominently throughout, jockey Davy Russell gave his charge a little squeeze with three to jump and just held on for the ride as his horse went through the gears.
And it was that ability to find an extra 10% when all around him were tiring that fired Tiger Roll to victory in 2019 as well.
A big jump at the penultimate fence got him into the equation, and that trademark final burst could not have been timed better as he pushed clear and rode on well to send the Aintree faithful into raptures. The 4/1 favourite was incredibly well backed, as you can imagine!
Red Rum (1973 & 1974)
One of the most iconic Grand National wins came in 1973 when Red Rum, who was some 15 lengths behind leader Crisp after the final flight had been navigated, somehow got up to take the line in first place.
Ginger McCain’s horse had gone off as a 9/1 joint favourite with Crisp, but punters looked set to be disappointed as Red Rum struggled to get into the picture.
But Crisp, the top weight who was carrying a hefty 23lb more than his nearest challenger, tired badly, and Red Rum was able to get home by less than a length in a time of 9m 01s, a record which would stand until Mr Frisk’s phenomenal effort in 1990.
Unsurprisingly, the horse was given a rather significant weight gain in 1974; some 23lb to be precise.
And that’s why Red Rum wasn’t actually the favourite with the bookies for the ’74 National, with Scout and L’Escargot both more widely fancied.
But that made scarcely any difference as the horse defied his handicap to charge home comfortably from L’Escargot in second and secure his place in the history books.
It was a win that left one punter dancing in the aisles….albeit 43 years later! He found a winning betslip at his home for the ’74 National in 2017, and after discovering it had yet to be cashed trousered a handy £130 from William Hill.
Red Rum would go on to compete in 5 Grand Nationals in total, winning his historic third in 1977 after finishing runner-up in the other two runnings.
Red Rum’s Five Grand Nationals
Reynoldstown (1935 & 1936)
Prior to Red Rum, you have to go back to before the Second World War to find the previous back-to-back Grand National champion.
As you can imagine, details are a little thinner on the ground about those two victories, but in 1935 the horse was just one of four finishers and was a general 22/1 selection.
Trained by Major Noel Furlong, the 1935 win saw his son, Frank, in the saddle, before a year later amateur jockey Fulke Walwyn took the spoils.
That second triumph saw Reynoldstown overcome a 14lb handicap gain to get home as third favourite at 10/1.
The Colonel (1869 & 1970)
To emphasize the extent of the achievement of back-to-back Grand National champions, you have to go back more than 200 years to find the fourth and first horse to accomplish the feat.
We don’t know a huge amount about the Colonel’s two wins, but his first came in 1869 at odds of 100/7, with George Stevens the winning jockey.
And the horse returned a year later as a 7/2 favourite to successfully defend his crown, with Stevens picking up his fifth and final National win; a record which still stands to this day.
George Stevens’ Five Grand National Wins
Did Tiger Roll Make it a Grand National Hat-Trick?
Sadly for Tiger Roll and all his connections, he was denied a tilt at a third successive Grand National in 2020 due to the race being cancelled.
At the time, owner Michael O’Leary had been reluctant to commit his horse to a third successive run, despite the temptation of an unprecedented treble.
“I feel no pressure to go back and try to win a third time,” he said in the aftermath of his horse’s triumph.
“Tiger Roll isn’t Red Rum – he’s Tiger Roll.”
Red Rum did go on to win a third Grand National in 1977, but no horse has ever won three editions of the Aintree showpiece consecutively. Tiger Roll would have almost certainly go into the 2020 edition as the top weight, and for a small horse that would, at the very least, hamper his jumping ability.
Such was Tiger Roll’s brilliance that other major races must surely have been on the radar of his connections, with the Gold Cup at Cheltenham one potential avenue for the nine-year-old. Again, O’Leary wasn’t exactly raving about the idea.
“We are not tempted by the Gold Cup – he is a small horse, the Gold Cup is such an attritional race,” he said.
“He has won four times at Cheltenham, and if he were to go back and win five times at Cheltenham – what more do you want from the horse? I think at that stage I would mind every precious hair in his body.”
The 2021 Season
That said, there are plenty who remember when the Gigginstown Stud man said that Tiger Roll wouldn’t run in the National in 2019 following his Cheltenham Festival exploits, so we were left hoping that there was still some life in this story.
Those hopes were dashed in 2021, as the weights for the next renewal were announced with Tiger Roll asked to saddle 11 stone and 9 pounds. A Gigginstown spokesperson stated:
“We believe this is patently unfair, unjustified and does not reflect the horse’s age or his form over the past two seasons”
Instead, Tiger Roll won his third Cross Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival before a tilt at the Grade 1 Aintree Bowl during the National meeting, where he finished sixth.
The 2022 Season
Speculation that Red Rum’s record could be matched again followed Tiger Roll the following season, with trainer Gordon Elliott seemingly confident.
“To have a horse like him is a dream come true, but to win two Grand Nationals with him has just been awesome and I’m very lucky to have him. I do think there is still more in him and we are certainly not finished yet”
Again however, the handicapper Martin Greenwood enraged owner Michael O’Leary by setting Tiger Roll 11 stone and 4 pounds to carry.
“We don’t believe it is fair or safe to ask him to carry close to top weight at the age of 12,” O’Leary revealed.
“Since we are responsible for the welfare of Tiger Roll, we must protect him from the idiotic opinion of this handicapper.
“We therefore regret to announce that he will not run in this year’s Aintree Grand National.”
Tiger Roll did have another outing at the Cheltenham Festival, he finished a narrow second to stablemate Delta Work in the Cross Country Chase in what was his final race before retirement.
Could Tiger Roll have won a third Grand National? We’ll never know. He will remain an Aintree legend however, a horse has rarely caught the public’s imagination as he did.