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Talking Horses: Tiger Roll withdrawn from Grand National in handicap row

Guardian sport
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

The two-times Grand National winner Tiger Roll has been withdrawn from this year’s race in an apparent dispute over the winner’s handicap mark. The surprise announcement ends the 2018 and 2019 champion’s hopes of an unprecedented hat-trick of consecutive victories in the Aintree race, after last year’s postponement.

Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud operation, which owns Tiger Roll, announced the news in a strongly worded statement on Tuesday, criticising the race handicapper’s decision to increase the horse’s mark by seven pounds from his 2019 victory.

Related: Jockey Rob James apologises for climbing on top of dead horse

“When Tiger Roll won his second Grand National in April 2019 he ran off a rating of 159. He won by just two-and-a-half lengths at the age of nine … two years later, the horse is now 11 years old,” the statement began. “He was beaten by 17 lengths in last year’s Cheltenham Cross Country [race] … his form suggests he is clearly not as good as he was when he won the National in 2019.

“Despite this pretty obvious decline, the handicapper has given him a mark of 166, seven pounds higher than in 2019. We believe this is patently unfair, unjustified and does not reflect the horse’s age or his form. The handicapper has decided to rate [Tiger Roll] on his reputation rather than his form, but we have a duty of care to Tiger, and so will not ask him to carry an unfair weight burden.

“We therefore regret to announce that Tiger Roll will be removed from the Grand National entries at Tuesday’s forfeit stage. We hope he will run next as planned in the Cross Country race at Cheltenham. After that, we will consider his future wellbeing, which may involve retirement … we all look forward to this year’s Aintree Grand National, which we hope can now proceed without any further speculation over Tiger Roll’s participation.”

Tiger Roll had been trained by Gordon Elliott for both his previous wins at Aintree. The Gigginstown stable’s preparations for this year’s race had already been thrown into double after the BHA banned Elliott from racing in Britain pending an investigation into a photograph of the trainer sitting on a dead horse.

Tuesday’s best bets

The market seems a little sceptical this morning regarding the chance of Home Before Dusk (5.30) in the 10-furlong handicap at Newcastle later, but Keith Dalgleish’s course specialist is back at his ideal track and trip – and 2lb lower in the weights – after finding an extended 12 furlongs stretching him last time.

Catterick: 12.30 Omar Maretti, 1.00 West To The Bridge, 1.30 Designer Destiny, 2.00 Caventara, 2.30 Gold Runner, 3.00 Relkadam, 3.30 Mr Chua.

Leicester: 2.10 Don Herbager, 2.40 Jack Valentine, 3.10 Somekindofstar, 3.40 Arqalina, 4.10 Fumet D'Oudairies, 4.40 Cat Tiger.

Newcastle: 4.00 Island Brave, 4.30 Great Esteem, 5.00 Kehailaan, 5.30 Home Before Dusk (nap), 6.00 Imperial Command, 6.30 Headshot, 7.00 The Great Heir (nb).

The Great Heir (7.00) is also of interest on the same card, having gone close in a decent time in mid-February, while Caventara (2.00) and Gold Runner (2.30) have solid claims on the jumps card at Catterick. Greg Wood