Although perhaps not quite a household name, Tiger Roll requires little or no introduction. For the uninitiated, in 2019 Tiger Roll became the first horse since Red Rum, in 1974, to win back-to-back renewals of the Grand National. The diminutive horse, who stands just 15.2 hands high and was once described as ‘a little rat of a thing’ by owner Michael O’Leary, was denied the chance to complete an unprecedented hat-trick when the Grand National was cancelled, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, in 2020.
In 2021, the Grand National returned, but O’Leary took exception to the handicap mark of 166 awarded to Tiger Roll by British Horseracing Authority (BHA) handicapper, Martin Greenwood, and withdrew his horse several weeks before the race. Nevertheless, Tiger Roll headed to the Cheltenham Festival for what had previously been his preparatory race for the Grand National, the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase. He won, easily, reversing previous form with 2020 winner, Easyland, to the tune of 35 lengths, leaving O’Leary keen on the idea of a return to Aintree for the Grand National in 2022. He said, ‘Red Rum was dropped 7lb as a 12-year-old. Hopefully, Tiger will get the chance to go back to Aintree.’At the time of writing, Tiger Roll is a top-priced 33/1 to emulate Red Rum and win his third Grand National in five years.
Following what was termed a ‘greenwash’ at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival, where Irish-trained horses secured a record 23-5 victory over their British-trained counterparts in the Prestbury Cup, the 2021 Grand National proved to be an equally one-sided affair. At Aintree, British-trained horses, including the favourite, Cloth Cap, comprised 22 of the 40-strong field field.
However, of those 22 runners, just three – priced at 50/1, 50/1 and 100/1 – completed the course and just one finished in the first ten horses home. Of course, victory went to Minella Times, trained by Henry de Bromhead and ridden by Rachael Blackmore, who made history by becoming the first female jockey to win the Grand National. Minella Times was followed home by stable companion Balko Des Flos, Any Second Now, trained by Ted Walsh, Burrows Saint, trained by Willie Mullins and Farclas, trained by Denise Foster, to complete an Irish 1-2-3-4-5.
The horse that fared best of the British-trained contigent was Blaklion, who had started favourite for the Grand National when a highly creditable fourth behind One For Arthur in 2017, when trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies. Nowadays a doughty 12-year-old, in the charge of Dan Skelton, Blaklion was sent off at 50/1, but ran perfectly respectfully, weakening from the final fence to finish sixth, 37 lengths behind the winner.
Various steeplechases are considered ‘trials’ for the Grand National, officially and unofficially. Ironically, one of the worst of all is the William Hill Grand National Trial, run over 3 miles 4½ furlongs at Haydock in February, which has failed to produce a Grand National winner since Party Politics in 1993. Across the Irish Sea, the Bobbyjo Chase, run over 3 miles 1 furlong at Fairyhouse in February, has produced just one Grand National winner, Hedgehunter in 2005, in its relatively short history. That said, the 2017 winner, Pleasant Company, was beaten just a head in the 2018 Grand National and the 2019 winner, Rathvinden, finished third at Aintree the same year.
The Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, run over 3 miles 6 furlongs at Cheltenham in March, was inaugurated as recently as 2005, but has since produced two Grand National runners-up and two winners. The 2014 winner, Balthazar, went on to finish second to Pineau De Re at Aintree, the 2017 winner, Cause Of Causes, went on to finish second to One For Arthur and the 2018 and 2019 winner Tiger Roll followed up in the Grand National on both occasions. By contrast, the Becher Chase, run over 3 miles 2 furlongs on the National Course in December, has yet to produce a Grand National winner in the same season; the 2001 and 2004 winners, Amberleigh House and Silver Birch, did go on to win the National, but not until a season or two later.
The 2022 Grand National is scheduled for 5.15pm on Saturday, April 9 and, as usual, the weights for the celebrated steeplechase will not be revealed until mid-February. However, at the time of writing, it is no surprise to see the 2021 winner, Minella Times, disputing favouritism.
Sent off 11/1 fourth-favourite last year, Minella Times put in a flawless round of jumping to beat stable companion Balko Des Flos by 6½ lengths and, in so doing, made Rachael Blackmore the first female jockey to win the Grand National. Of course, the handicapper will have his say but, at the time of writing, the 8-year-old is a top-priced 20/1 joint-favourite to repeat his Aintree triumph.
At this early stage, the other 20/1 joint-favourite is Any Second Now who, like Minella Times, is owned by J.P. McManus and carried his first colours in the 2021 Grand National. Indeed, he was sent off 15/2 second favourite, behind only the well-handicapped Cloth Cap, last year. He was badly hampered by a faller on the first circuit but, ultimately, the concession of 6lb to Minella Times proved beyond him and he had to settle for third, beaten 8¼ lengths. Again, much depends on how the handicapper reacts, but he has a touch of class and deserves his position at the head of the ante-post market for the 2022 Grand National.