Lion-hearted Tiger Roll wins Grand National thriller

Aintree (United Kingdom) (AFP) –


Tiger Roll, the smallest horse in the field, was described as having the "heart of a lion" after winning the Grand National at Aintree on Saturday in a thrilling finish.

Tiger Roll -- giving jockey Davy Russell his first win in 14 attempts -- had to hold off an unbelievable late surge from fellow Irish raider Pleasant Company to take victory.

Tiger Roll, owned by Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary, gave trainer Gordon Elliott his second win in the race having won it in 2007 with Silver Birch.

Russell, who was once sacked by O'Leary, lost his mother recently but his thoughts were for champion flat jockey Pat Smullen, who has been diagnosed with a tumour.

"This one's for Pat Smullen," said 38-year-old Russell. "He's tough as nails."

However, Russell -- who is set to be crowned Irish champion jockey -- later also paid tribute to his mother.

"She was a marvellous woman," said Russell. "She would get me out of bed at six in the morning and drive me round the country.

"The National I have won 1,000 times in my mind. The only time I ever enjoyed collecting the grass when my father cut it was in the spring so I could build National fences and then jump them."

Elliott said he hadn't wanted to buy the horse when he and O'Leary went to the sales.

"I wanted to buy another but Michael thought otherwise," said Elliott.

"I threw the toys out of the pram and was effing and blinding but he of course has been proved right."

O'Leary won the Grand National with Rule The World in 2016 in equally emotional circumstances after trainer Mouse Morris had lost his son earlier that year.

"This horse is small but he has the heart of a lion," said O'Leary. "He is extraordinary but he has a master trainer in Gordon."

Elliott also trained third-place Bless The Wings, while the Irish completed a cleansweep of the top four with Anibale Fly.

There was to be no historic win for any of the three women jockeys in the race, the more fancied Katie Walsh on Baie des Iles never really featured -- finishing last of the 12 horses out of the original 38 starters to complete the daunting race -- while Bryony Frost finished fifth on Milansbar.

"He is incredible, he made a few mistakes early on and then gave me a wonderful ride..fifth in the National!" said Frost.

Race favourite Total Recall made a shocking error at the third and again later on the first circuit to lose any chance of winning leaving it to his unfancied Willie Mullins' stablemate Pleasant Company to nearly pull off a remarkable victory.

Pleasant Company's jockey David Mullins put his hands to his face on crossing the line as he tasted the bitter experience of being touched off having won in 2016 on Rule The World.

Pleasant Company had looked beaten jumping the last but somehow found a second wind and ate up the ground between him and a tiring Tiger Roll only to be denied by the shortest of margins.

"It is not nice to get beaten by that margin," said Mullins. "But then I thought 'well, Davy's 38 -- he hasn't got many left in him'."

Total Recall's rival for favouritism Blaklion didn't give his backers any joy at all coming down at the first whilst Ucello Conti led for a large part of the race but came to grief as he tired.