Tiger Roll, the 10/1 joint second favourite in the 2018 Grand National betting, looked set for an easy victory under Davy Russell with a six length advantage at the elbow but Pleasant Company (25/1) kept finding for Danny Mullins and they crossed the line together.
A photo was needed to separate them and no one dared to call the result. For once the body language of both jockeys suggested neither thought they had won. Ultimately punters’ prayers were answered, Tiger Roll won by a head for Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown denying Danny and Willie Mullins.
Elliott leapt higher into the air than many would have thought possible for a man of his stature. It was an outstanding result for him as he also saddled the unfancied 13-year-old Bless The Wings (40/1) who finished third under young Jack Kennedy, beaten 11 lengths. His compatriot Tony Martin’s Anibale Fly (10/1) was a neck behind in fourth for JP McManus and Barry Geraghty completing a comprehensive raid of the major prize money for Ireland’s trainers.
It was Elliott’s second National success, he sent out Silver Birch to victory in 2007 during his first year as a trainer. Gigginstown had not had such a long wait for a second victory, the Mouse Morris-trained Rule The World won for them in 2016, galvanised late by Danny Mullins.
For Davy Russell, the oldest jockey in the line-up, it was a long-awaited and well-deserved first National victory. Russell used to be Gigginstown’s first jockey but was given the boot by Michael O’Leary over a now infamous cup of tea in 2013. Russell wisely said nothing, kept his head down and kept riding and eventually found himself wearing the maroon and white Gigginstown silks again, albeit on an ad hoc basis.
Russell had plenty of Grand National experience, finishing third on Saint Are in 2017 for Tom George but was not the first choice to ride Tiger Roll. Keith Donoghue, who won the cross country chase at the Cheltenham Festival on him and rode him in his previous two starts, could not do the weight of 10 stone 13lb.
It was Russell’s first ride on Tiger Roll. Many experts were concerned about this tiny son of Authorized’s ability to cope with the National fences. Standing only four inches taller than a full height pony this 2014 Triumph Hurdle winner looked better suited to lesser obstacles. In December he made a complete hash of the ‘Aintree fence’ in the Cheltenham cross country chase and was beaten 40 lengths. The fence was omitted in his subsequent Festival victory because of the ground.
Russell had confessed to doubts about Tiger Roll’s ability to handle the fences and said he would not have been surprised to find himself on the deck. Mick Fitzgerald and a number of other aficionados believed that the obstacles would prove a problem. Fortunately Tiger Roll was unaware of his potential failings and locked on to the first but was far from foot perfect. Russell sits tighter than most and he was reaching to get his foot back into a lost stirrup after the 19th.
Danny Mullins was disappointed to miss out on a second win by such a short margin. He admitted that the ten-year-old Pleasant Company had pulled him to the front. They started in mid division and took the lead by the 18th but were headed two fences from home. While Mullins may be beating himself up about what might have been his mount finished more strongly than he did under Ruby Walsh last year when beaten nearly 30 lengths by One For Arthur.
Irish trained horses dominate
Everyone expected the Irish raiders to do well in the unseasonably heavy ground but their domination of the race was extraordinary. Not only were the first four horses home trained in Ireland but eight of the 12 finishers came from the Emerald Isle. Only three English and one Scottish-trained horse, Sandy Thomson’s Seeyouatmidnight (11/1) made it over the line.
Neil King’s Milansbar (25/1) was the first English-trained horse home, he was beaten 32 lengths and finished over 20 lengths behind the fourth placed Anibale Fly. The 11-year-old Milansbar was ridden by an elated Bryony Frost. She was ready for him to over-jump and he had his nose on the ground after the first but soon got his act together and kept on better than expected for a horse who can down tools when denied an easy lead. Another Irish-trained horse took sixth, Noel Meade’s Road To Riches (33/1), who crept in at the bottom of the weights after other horses were withdrawn.
In the testing conditions only 12 of the 38 horses that lined-up finished: 13 were pulled up, six fell, five unseated their jockeys and two were brought down. There was a concern about Saint Are’s well-being after he was brought down at the Chair but, after a night at the vets, he was well enough to return to Tom George’s stables.
What happened to the fancied horses in the 2018 National betting?
Willie Mullins’ Total Recall was always close to the top of the Grand National betting and was sent off as the 7/1 favourite. He fell in the Gold Cup last time out and understandably did not enjoy these larger fences. He made error after error, comprehensively testing Paul Townend’s commitment to the partnership before being pulled up two out.
The leading hope from Scotland, Seeyouatmidnight (11/1), jumped well and looked likely to feature until he ran out of steam two out and finished eleventh, beaten 86 lengths. His compatriot Captain Redbeard (20/1) unshipped Sam Coltherd at the seventh. Daryl Jacob suffered the same fate four out on Elliott’s Ucello Conti (16/1), while still travelling well. Harry Cobden was given little chance on The Dutchman (20/1) when he blundered badly at Foinavon second time.
The 2017 National favourite, Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Blaklion, was strongly fancied but drifted to 14/1. There were concerns about his stamina that were heightened by the ground but he was brought down at the first leaving questions unanswered. In contrast Sue Smith’s I Just Know shortened significantly close to the race and was sent off at the same price. He seemed to be having a good time at the head of affairs before he tipped up at Bechers.
A dramatic mover during the week of the race was Baie Des Iles who started it at 80/1 and was as short as 12/1 at one point before drifting to a starting price of 16/1. Trained by Ross O’Sullivan in Ireland and ridden by his wife Katie Walsh, this seven-year-old grey mare had finished third in a National trial. That form had been franked and the family angle fuelled positive vibes in the Irish press.
As a stamina-laden mudlark Baie Des Iles seemed to stand a chance of defying all the statistics that suggested seven-year-olds and mares were up against it. Baie Des Iles did not seem to relish the fences and lost interest after being carried wide by a loose horse. She finished last beaten nearly 90 lengths.
For punters it was a thrilling race and the closest finish since Neptune Collonges won by a nose in 2012. The win obviously meant a lot to O’Leary, owner of Gigginstown and the budget airline Ryanair. On his Ryanair flight home to Ireland with Davy Russell he announced that there would be free drinks for all passengers. Any bookmakers on the plane could drown their 2018 Grand National betting sorrows.