1. Tiger on a Roll
It’s obvious, but there’s no other place to start but with the star that is Tiger Roll, and the genius that is Gordon Elliott. With many news outlets highlighting the unfortunate death of one horse in the Grand National, it’s so important that the winner provided some positive headlines by becoming the first horse since Red Rum in 1974 to win successive renewals.
Tiger Roll’s career-leading figure of 167, which is top class on Timeform’s scale, was bettered elsewhere over Aintree’s Grand National Festival, but its impact on sport was much, much greater.
While not on the same level as staying greats like Best Mate or, certainly, Kauto Star, Tiger Roll is deserving of mention in the same breath for his achievements and the rightly revered qualities above and beyond pure form. Three weeks earlier he had put himself in a select group of four-time Cheltenham Festival winners and he joined an even more exclusive club on Saturday following numerous failed attempts from others since Red Rum in 1974.
Tiger Roll is not quite in that bracket of Aintree folklore yet – the quality of rival is far higher these days but the test much more forgiving – but he is still sufficiently young to believe he’ll have another live chance in 2020 when bidding to set himself apart as the first ever to complete a Grand National hat-trick.
Indeed, bar the first fence, the Grand National was otherwise notable for its lack of incident as well as its obvious significance in a historical context, only six of the non-completers either falling or unseating compared to 14 pulling up and, in an unprecedented sequence, fences 2 to 18 passing entirely free of departures.
Celebrating his back-to-back wins 🙌
— Aintree Racecourse (@AintreeRaces) April 7, 2019
2. Don’t give Ruby an easy lead…
Kemboy was one of those whose bare performance exceeded that of Tiger Roll, his strong-travelling, all-the-way win in the Bowl Chase banishing the memories of his first-fence unseat in the Gold Cup. He’s progressed throughout the season and is now rated the same as Al Boum Photo, the pair still only seven and in the very best hands to boot.
Twenty-four hours later, Min provided jockeys with a further reminder that it’s not a great idea to allow Ruby Walsh an easy lead on a top-class chaser when dominating the Melling Chase. Min not only banished the memories of his subdued showing in the Champion Chase, but proved better than ever as he put up a performance every bit as authoritative – indeed possibly even more so – as Cyrname in the Ascot Chase, handing out a very similar beating to Politologue and a bigger one to Waiting Patiently. With Altior and Cyrname set to clash at Sandown, Min should have the Punchestown Champion Chase at his mercy, especially if granted as easy a lead as he was here.
Generally speaking, the main Willie Mullins horse in any Grade 1 race is usually in the top five (minimum) when it comes to talent. If race tactics then play to their strengths, they are very hard to stop, and, as the image below illustrates, Walsh is exceptional when giving horses prominent or front-running rides. Other jockeys: take note!
3. The highs and lows of a jumps jockey
Paul Townend has had quite a month. First came a win in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Al Boum Photo – a first in the race for both trainer and jockey – followed by notable successes since, including an excellent front-running ride on Acapella Bourgeois at Clonmel.
It was back to earth with a bang (literally) on Thursday, with Melon coming down three out in the Aintree Hurdle, just as he was starting to feel the pinch after racing a little freely in front. The next high came on Cadmium in the Topham, who jumped from fence to fence before winning by eight lengths on what was his tenth start of a season that began right back in June.
It was no surprise, then, to see Pleasant Company well-backed ahead of the Grand National, and Townend must have been confident of getting somewhere close to the horse’s runner-up finish last year (when ridden by David Mullins), only for his mount to make his first significant error four out, catapulting Townend out of the saddle and onto the Aintree turf once more.
Whether by accident of design, those were Townend’s only three rides at Aintree, which is a criminal under-use of one of the best jockeys around at the moment. A ready-made replacement for Ruby Walsh when he retires, I’d be moving heaven and earth in the meantime to get the County Cork man on-board when he’s not obligated to ride for his boss.
One to back next time
It’s not yet in full swing, but the Flat season is hovering like someone in the pub waiting for you to finish your drink and leave your table. Danny Ocean – named after the character in Ocean’s 11 – couldn’t take all the loot in a novice at Leicester last Friday, but he did well to finish third after fluffing the start and showing inexperience early on.
That probably wasn’t totally unexpected (sent off at 10/1 despite being bred for speed/ representing a Karl Burke yard that does well with young sprinters), but the way Danny Ocean finished under hands and heels suggests that he’ll take plenty of beating next time.