By Martin Mannering
When the sporting analysts at RTE, or indeed the BBC, sit down to shortlist their respective candidates for Sports Personality of the Year for 2019 they may have to broaden their selection base to include as true equine superstar in Tiger Roll.
Tiger by name with the heart of a lion – his versality is unique.
While Cheltenham remains undoubtedly the Olympics of National Hunt Racing, somehow Aintree and the Grand National seems to always have the story that stirs emotion and tugs at heartstrings.
Rarely, if ever, has there been a horse who has so majestically ruled the roost at both meetings, as this amazing little giant which has gained legendary status, probably well before he has finished his career.
Four victories at the Cotswold track and now a two-time National winner puts him on a different stratosphere to all others.
Probably more so than anywhere, Liverpool loves a hero and the 70,000 crowd thunderously roared him home as he powered up the home straight to see off the challenge of Magic of Light, whether they had backed him or not.
Tiger Roll resembles a pony compared to most of the rivals that line up against him, but he has a heart bigger than all and a spring in his step that is unequalled when it comes to getting over the National’s imposing fences.
The Tiger may or may not get a chance to write an unparalleled chapter next year, but that is a long way off.
In recent years there has invariably been a strong emotional story lying behind the Grand National triumph with victory over adversity and loss.
In 2014, Leighton Aspell put a long spell of personable problems behind him to steer Pineau De Re to victory and he completed his own personal fairytale by following up on Many Clouds.
In 2017, Mouse Morris had to contend with the loss of his son Cristopher but still saddled Rule The World, a horse who had his own share of problems, to capture the biggest prize.
Again this year there was a large element of poignancy attached with both trainer and jockey suffering personal bereavement in recent times.
The Story of 2018 and 2019 Grand National winner Tiger Roll… 🐯🙌 pic.twitter.com/1ynRu9qMzu
— ITV Racing (@itvracing) April 8, 2019
Tiger Roll’s trainer Gordon Elliott was hugely emotional as he paid tribute to his late uncle Willie “without whom I would have never been anywhere near racing”.
Jockey Davy Russell dedicated the win to friend and former Cork footballer Kieran O’Connor, who is currently battling a rare form of cancer describing him as “a true sportsman”.
When all is said and done, though, the story is the horse and there will no doubt be major pressure for Tiger Roll to have a go for a never achieved hat-trick of National’s, but at the moment owner Michael O’Leary appears reluctant to consider the possibility.
— ITV Racing (@itvracing) April 7, 2019
Speaking after the race, O’Leary seemed to pour cold water on the inevitable talk that Tiger Roll might go for an unprecedented three-in-a-row in 2020, when he said he would “loathe to send him here next year and attempt to lump top weight around this course”.
He added: “I would be more concerned for the horse’s well-being and he has nothing to prove to anyone.”
The Cheltenham Cross Country in 2020 is more likely to be the target – and a third consecutive win in that race. It was a sentiment echoed by Elliott, who said the horse is already a “legend”.
Temptation, however, may prove to be too great. Only time will tell.