Grand National preview: Donn McClean on the Irish challenge headed by Tiger Roll

Jury Duty - won American Grand National
Jury Duty - won American Grand National

Donn McClean highlights the key Irish challengers ahead of the 2019 Randox Health Grand National at Aintree, headed by the incredible Tiger Roll.

History beckons. It is 45 years since Red Rum won back-to-back Grand Nationals.

Many have tried to emulate Red Rum’s feat in the interim. Hedgehunter went close, Comply Or Die went close. Don’t Push It and West Tip and Corbiere and Monty’s Pass ran gallant races the year after they won it. None succeeded in their efforts to win it again. It’s not easy.

Tiger Roll will make his bid this year. Tiger Roll could do it too. There are similarities between Red Rum then and Tiger Roll now. Both eight-year-olds when they won their first, nine-year-olds going for their second. Both essentially Flat-bred, neither of obvious Grand National stature. Both clever and nimble at their fences. Red Rum never fell, Tiger Roll has never fallen and has unseated just once, when he was hampered at the second last fence in a novices’ chase at Galway almost three years ago.

The Gigginstown House horse has lots in his favour. He is only 9lb higher than he was when he won the race last year under Davy Russell and, although he only got home by a heart-stopping head in the end from Pleasant Company, you can easily argue that he would have won last year’s race with 9lb more on his back.

More than that, however, the evidence suggests that he is an even better horse this year than he was last year. He put up one of the best performances of his career on his penultimate run when he won the Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle at Navan over two miles and five furlongs in what was supposed to be a prep run for Cheltenham and Aintree.

Also, he put up an even better performance in winning the Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham this year than the performance that he put up in winning it last year.

Gordon Elliott has him zinging.

Tiger Roll wins the Randox Health Grand National
Tiger Roll wins the Randox Health Grand National

You would love to see him winning it. It would be some story. A bridge to history, a bridge to Red Rum, by a horse who would be more than worthy of his place in history, up there with a Grand National legend. From a betting perspective, however, at no better than 4/1, in a Grand National, you can let him run.

His stable companion Jury Duty is a more palatable betting proposition at 25/1 or 33/1. Gordon Elliott’s horse is a classy young staying chaser. He finished third in the Galway Plate last year, and he beat Shattered Love and Presenting Percy in the Grade 2 Florida Pearl Chase at Punchestown last season as a novice.

The Grand National is a different race these days to the race that it used to be. It used to be the case that maturity was a positive. There was only one winner aged younger than nine (Bindaree, 2002) between Party Politics in 1992 and Many Clouds in 2015.

The last four years have been different, however. Three of the last four winners were eight, and the other was nine.

There were only eight eight-year-olds in the race last year, they made up just 21% of the runners, but two of them finished in the first four. In 2017, there were 10 eight-year-olds in the race, and three of them finished in the first six. In 2016, there were just seven eight-year-olds in the race and, again, three of them finished in the first six. In 2015, there were nine eight-year-olds in the race, and two of them finished in the first five.

You should probably start your search with the young progressive staying chaser these days. The one who has the potential to out-perform his or her handicap rating. It is a handicap chase, after all.

It has always been the case that, ideally, you don’t want to be carrying too much weight in a Grand National, and that is still the case. While Many Clouds confounded the stats by winning it under 11st 9lb in 2015, five of the last six winners carried less than 11st, and 18 of the 24 places in the last six years, since the course was modified, were filled by horses who were carrying less than 11st.

Jury Duty fits a lot of those trends. Still only eight, he will only have 10st 7lb to carry if top weight Bristol De Mai runs. He has raced just 11 times over fences, and he still has potential to progress as a staying chaser.

He proved his well-being on Saturday when he won a three-and-a-quarter-mile chase at Down Royal. Baie Des Iles was still travelling well in front when she came down at the third last fence, but Jury Duty was also travelling well in third place at the time, and he stayed on well to get the better of his stable companion Mala Beach, a 155-rated horse to whom he was conceding 10lb.

That was the Well Chosen gelding’s first run since he won the Grand National Hurdle at Far Hills in America last October, so there is every chance that he will come on for it. The handicapper raised him by 4lb for that performance but, because the Grand National is obviously a (very) early-closing race, he gets to race off his old mark of 151.

His stamina for four and a quarter miles is not proven, and he did look like a tired horse when he unseated at the second-last fence in the National Hunt Chase last year. But he is a year older now, a year stronger, and he stayed three and a quarter miles well on soft ground on Saturday. Also, his trainer was talking about him as a potential Irish Grand National horse when he won the Florida Pearl Chase early in his novice chasing season.

You know that he will be primed for the Grand National by Gordon Elliott, who knows what it takes to win the race. He has done so twice. He handles all types of ground, he goes well on flat, galloping left-handed tracks, and he is an improving young chaser who has the potential to go beyond the rating of 151 off which he will race.

The Irish challenge is strong. Anibale Fly ran a big race to finish fourth last year, and Tony Martin’s horse probably put up the best performance of his career to date when he finished second to Al Boum Photo in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last Friday.

JP McManus’ horse will be well-in – he will be 6lb well-in relative to his new Irish mark – as will Rathvinden – 5lb well-in – who ran out an impressive winner of the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse after the Grand National weights were published and set in stone. Winner of the National Hunt Chase last year, Willie Mullins’ horse is 11 now, but he is a lightly-raced 11-year-old, he is a second-season chaser, and he is a player.

Mall Dini is also a player. He is a maiden over fences, but so was Rule The World before he won the Grand National in 2016, and Philip Reynolds’ horse ran well at Limerick on Sunday over an extended two miles, a distance that is obviously well short of his optimum.

Pleasant Company will be back for more, just 7lb higher than he was last year when he went down by a head to Tiger Roll, and Dounikos stayed on well to win the Grand National Trial at Punchestown last month, although that was before the weights were framed, so he will be racing off a 7lb higher mark. Alpha Des Obeaux was travelling well when he fell at The Chair last year, and he has been in really good form this season, while Folsom Blue could go well if it came up soft, but Jury Duty could be the value.

Posted at 1100 GMT on 24/03/19


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