The Tiger Roll will he, won't he saga looks set to run as the dual Grand National winner was allotted a rating of 170, a pound below his official rating, but the joint top weight for the historic bid.
Trainer Gordon Elliott was magnanimous about the rating speaking immediately after the announcement of the weights on Tuesday. The Summerhill trainer says he will do his best by the horse and endeavour to get the horse to Aintree in top shape.
“This horse has a very unfair rating” - Eddie O'Leary is by no means sure that Tiger Roll will go for a third Grand National, disappointed with his rating... pic.twitter.com/25t3xR54ul
— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) February 11, 2020
Tiger Roll's owners, however, were not happy with the lack of compression in the reigning champions' weight. Speaking to Sky Sports Racing, Gigginstown House Stud Racing manager Eddie O'Leary, brother of Michael was unimpressed.
"We're a bit disappointed, he's been compressed by only a pound, and he's expected to run off level weights with one of our best young horses (Delta Work). It's disappointing."
When pushed by host Sean Boyce, O'Leary was vague about whether the horse would even partake in the Aintree showpiece. Before lambasting the senior handicapper for wanting to "make it absolutely impossible to even go for a third (Grand National)".
So team Tiger Roll, or specifically team Gigginstown are not happy, but are they right? In a word, possibly.
It's a race framed by the British handicapper (with some Irish input), run in Britain so it's perfectly understandable that British handicap ratings would be used.
However, the compression in places defies logic. Bristol de Mai is out of form and was placed in the Gold Cup, he was dropped two pounds.
Anibale Fly is out of form and was placed in last year's Gold Cup and Grand National, he was raised four pounds from his, admittedly lenient looking Irish mark.
Aso is running in decent races just finishing out of the podium positions, he was dropped four pounds. Jett, trained by Jessica Harrington ran well behind Delta Work in two grade ones and was raised four pounds.
Native River's compression looks by far the most generous, a previous Gold Cup winner with proven stamina.
If I was the Tizzards I would skip Cheltenham with Native River and go straight to the National. https://t.co/Xyjn8b2L0Q
— John Duggan (@JohnDugganSport) February 11, 2020
Native River has never finished out of the first four over fences at the Cheltenham festival, placed in a King George, won a Welsh National and a Hennessy.
He's a class act, albeit unproven over the Grand National fences, but did win a novice grade one at Aintree. Following a grade two win at Newbury at the weekend, Native River was dropped two pounds, he will carry four pounds less than Tiger Roll.
Joe Tizzard was clearly happy with Native River's mark speaking in central Liverpool at the weights announcement.
“Me and dad (Colin Tizzard) aren’t hiding the fact we’re keen to run Native River in the National, but Garth and Ann (Broom, owners) need to support the idea.
“He does deserve to take his chance in the Gold Cup, but Dicky (Richard) Johnson is wise enough to know if he’s not going to win it he’ll look after him. If he was mine I might skip Cheltenham, but he’s got every right to run in it."
Unsurprisingly the three bookies who offered 20/1 on the day of the weights announcement have since cut Native River's price.
While Tiger Roll and his one-pound weight compression will catch the eye, he is one of only three Irish horses in the top 50 listed to have their rating dropped. Delta Work and number 49 on the list Chef des Obeaux. All were dropped a single pound.
Of the British trained horses Bristol de Mai, Native River, and Aso were all dropped in the top ten, while Crievehill and Vintage Clouds got eased a pound further down.
It's the thoroughly exposed Irish chasers who look the hardest done by, Alpha des Obeaux, up one, why, Sub Lieutenant up five, really, he has that up his sleeve?
Pleasant Company is 12 years old, and fell last year, up five pounds on his Irish chase mark. Still five higher than when he was placed two years ago. In the last 30 years, three twelve-year-olds have won the National, the last in 2004.
One for Arthur is a year younger than Pleasant Company and the other previous winner lining up. He will run off 148, the same as his winning mark in 2017.
Trainer Lucinda Russell was pretty happy: “I’m pleased — 10st 2lb is a lovely weight. If the weights go up a bit that will be fine, and if they don’t that would be even better.
“He’s 6lb lower than he was last year (finished sixth) and he’s on the same mark as when he won the National three years ago.
“I think he’s in better form than he was this time last year, certainly we’re a lot more relaxed. I think he might even be in better form than he was the year he won the National."
Official handicapper MartinGreenwood added of his Tiger Roll assessment: “It must be remembered that Tiger Roll ran in the Grand National off a rating of 159 (last year), but was actually rated 167 at the time due to his win in the cross-country at Cheltenham."
What Greenwood failed to add was the paucity fo competition in the Cheltenham race. Yes, Tiger Roll won well, but of the ten finishers, they have won just once between them since (a handicap chase at Ludlow).
Tiger Roll then won the Grand National when officially "well-in." we will have to wait until the day to see if the handicapper's maths stacks up.
Having previously discounted the "Aintree factor" as a significant calculation, the assessor has now weighted the top handicap chase form in Britain with the lost souls' society that populate cross country races. Something does not compute.
For Tiger Roll to succeed, he will have to defy some patriotic maths as well as the 39 other horses lining up at Aintree on April fourth.