Tiger Roll will have to emulate the great Red Rum by carrying topweight to victory if he is going to create history and become the first horse to win three successive Randox Health Grand Nationals.
However, such was the disappointment among his connections about the 10-year-old's handicap mark that he is now not even certain to take his place in the £1m April showpiece.
Tiger Roll, a 13/2 favourite with big-race sponsors Betway, has been given an official rating of 170 which is 11lb higher than last year’s two and three-quarter length success, and he will be asked to carry 11st 10lb (5lb more than 12 months ago) in his bid for an unprecedented Aintree treble.
Red Rum, the only horse to have won the race three times, although not in successive years, was the last horse to carry topweight to victory in 1974.
Weights for the 2020 renewal were unveiled at a star-studded lunch in Liverpool on Tuesday, where the spotlight was well and truly focused on Tiger Roll and his connections.
The owner's racing manager, Eddie O'Leary, couldn’t hide his disappointment at Tiger Roll’s rating, saying: “I'm obviously very disappointed that they have only compressed him by a single pound. We're not going to jump up and down about it as we have said all we wanted to say already, but we will have to have a serious think about whether he will run or not.
“I mean that. He really is not certain to line up. Delta Work is our Gold Cup horse and the handicapper thinks Tiger Roll is as good as him, that makes no sense to me at all.
“Tiger Roll is a brilliant, brilliant horse and he is completely invaluable to us, but we have to do our best by the horse. What is far more important at this present time is that he gets through Sunday at Navan okay and then comes out of Cheltenham in one piece. That's at the front of our minds at the moment.”
Paddy Power reacted by opening up a 'Will Tiger Roll run' market, in which he is 4/11 to do so and 15/8 to miss the race. The firm's spokesman Paul Binfield said: "We believe the O'Leary's won't be able to pass up the opportunity to create history despite the negativity at Tiger Roll's mark and there is no doubt that it would be huge for the race's broader appeal if he does turn up."
Decision Made on Two Factors
British Horseracing Authority chase handicapper Martin Greenwood, who framed the weights for the second time this year, said: “I have made Tiger Roll and Delta Work joint top-weights for the Randox Health Grand National.
“This decision was made essentially on two factors – historical compression which was brought in by Phil Smith and has been used for the last 10 years or so. On the other hand, I have to give Tiger Roll this mark based on his efforts over the national fences at Aintree where he is of course unbeaten.
“Tiger Roll was rated 172 at the end of last year and obviously there is no recent evidence to go on because of his fitness issues, so his handicap mark has been unquantifiable since. He is therefore coming down 2lb and carries the same weight as Suny Bay did when he was second in the 1998 Grand National. No other horse has carried that rating since. Many Clouds won off 11st 9lb, but he did not have as high a rating.
“It must be remembered that Tiger Roll ran in the race off a rating of 159 but was actually rated 167 at the time due to his win in the Cross Country at Cheltenham.”
Greenwood added: “The race is full of top-class individuals and boasts the winners of races such as the Grand National, Irish National, Welsh National, Rowland Meyrick Chase, Cheltenham Gold Cup and much more. It is as good a staying handicap as would be run anywhere.
“You could argue that it is the highest quality Grand National in modern history."
Other Notable Entries
Tiger Roll, who heads an incredible 18-strong team of entries from the Gordon Elliott stable, still needs to run in a chase in order to qualify for the Aintree showpiece, is due to make his seasonal return in the Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle at Navan on Sunday before defending his Glen Farclas Cross Country Chase crown at the Cheltenham Festival, where he will be ridden by bookmakers.co.uk racing ambassador Keith Donoghue - you can read his thoughts here every week.
If he does make it to Aintree, he might be joined by fellow Gigginstown House Stud-owned Delta Work who has been allotted an identical rating of 170, although he has the small matter of a Gold Cup bid to focus on first.
2018 Gold Cup winner Native River will carry 11st 6lb if taking up the Liverpool challenge, something Joe Tizzard, son of trainer Colin, is very keen to do.
Tizzard said: “If he was mine I would rather skip the Gold Cup and go straight to the National.”
Of the 103 entries, 43 are trained in Ireland, while two are based in France (Dalko Moriviere and Disco d'Authie).
Willie Mullins, successful with Hedgehunter in 2005, has impressive Irish Grand National victor Burrows Saint (10st 10lb) among his nine contenders.
Welsh National winner Potters Corner will carry 10st 6l (OR 152) in his bid to be the first Welsh-trained winner of the Aintree showpiece in over a century.