The odds that Aintree will stage the most eagerly anticipated Grand National since the 1970s improved significantly on Friday when Gordon Elliott, the trainer of Tiger Roll, confirmed that his chaser will attempt to win the race for an unprecedented third year in a row next April, writes Greg Wood.
Tiger Roll became the first dual winner of the National since Red Rum in 1974 five months ago when he beat Magic Of Light by nearly three lengths. Michael O’Leary, his owner, seemed to suggest afterwards that Tiger Roll was too much of a family favourite to be sent to the race a third time but with a unique achievement within grasp, there has been a change of heart.
“The number one target this year will be the English National on 4 April 2020,” Elliott said on Friday. “We are going to have to mind him now and pick and choose where we go. He will probably have one run over hurdles, maybe something like the Boyne Hurdle in February. He will go back to Cheltenham [in March] for the Cross-Country Race and then we’ll go for the Randox Health Grand National.”
Red Rum, the only horse in Grand National history to win the race three times, finished second in 1975 and 1976 before completing his hat-trick in 1977. The BBC coverage of the closing stages of that race, with the legendary voice of Peter O’Sullevan declaring “hats off and a tremendous reception, you’ve never heard one like it at Liverpool” would top the list of many fans as the greatest racing moment of the last 50 years.
In 1977, Aintree was emerging from the most difficult period in its history, having only recently been saved from the threat of closure for redevelopment as a housing estate. While there were 51,000 spectators in attendance to see Red Rum record his historic win, there had been fewer than 10,000 racegoers two years earlier, when L’Escargot frustrated his attempt to win for the third year running.
It will be a very different story if Tiger Roll attempts to succeed where even Red Rum failed, and win for the third straight season. A 63,000 sell-out crowd will be guaranteed, along with intense media attention in the run-up to the race for which Tiger Roll is all but certain to start favourite.