DONEGAL SPORT

The Irish were on a Roll on Saturday at the 2018 Aintree Grand National

Patrick Grace

Reporter:

Patrick Grace

The Irish were on a Roll on Saturday at the 2018  Aintree Grand National

Tiger Roll edges out Pleasant Company

Irish eyes were smiling with the first four home in the Grand National. It was a close finish with the Gordon Elliott trained Tiger Roll taking it by head from Pleasant company who is trained by none other than Willie Mullins. It went to the judge with Tiger Roll taking it by a head. The dual mirrors the fight for the trainers championship in Ireland with Elliott and Mullins taking it to the wire for the second year running. Read on for all the reactions from the big race.
Tiger Roll and Davy Russell held on to claim a dramatic victory in the Randox Health Grand National at Aintree.
Gordon Elliott's eight-year-old landed his third Cheltenham Festival success in the Cross-Country Chase last month, to go with previous victories in the Triumph Hurdle and National Hunt Chase, and was among the market principals for the world's most famous steeplechase.


Russell cut a confident figure throughout the four-and-a-quarter-mile contest on the 10-1 shot and cruised to the front in the home straight.
But just when he looked to have victory sewn up, the Willie Mullins-trained Pleasant Company, who had been ridden prominently and jumped boldly, came with a late rattle to almost join him on the line.
However, after a brief wait, the judge confirmed Tiger Roll the narrow winner.
Bless The Wings, the winner's stablemate, was third, and Anibale Fly was fourth as Irish runners dominated.
Russell dedicated his victory to leading Flat jockey Pat Smullen, who was diagnosed with a tumour last month.
He told ITV Racing: 'I was afraid he wouldn't take to it as he's very economical with his jumping. They've done a marvellous job with this horse.
'This one is for Pat Smullen. I was speaking to him the other morning and he's as tough as nails.
'I really don't know what to say.'
Elliott added: 'It's unbelievable. Tiger Roll is a yard favourite. It's great for the yard, for Gigginstown (House Stud, owners), for everyone.'
Elliott launched his career when Silver Birch became his first ever winner as a trainer in the 2007 Grand National.
Gigginstown House Stud, led by Ryanair supremo Michael O'Leary, won the National two years ago with Rule The World.
Pleasant Company, ridden by Rule The World's partner David Mullins, jumped with elan on the front end, but looked booked for minor honours when Tiger Roll strode clear.
But the leader began to falter as the post loomed and Pleasant Company was finishing like a train. There was just a head between them at the line.
Elliott said: 'I was nervous. I thought I had it, but you're so nervous watching it.
'I said I didn't appreciate the first time round. I'm definitely going to appreciate it now. It's great for my family and everyone at home.
'He's an unbelievable horse. I was fighting with Michael O'Leary telling him to keep this horse at Gigginstown when he retires and he said he wasn't good enough. He'd better keep him now!'
He added: 'At one point I said he wasn't good enough and at one point retirement was an option, but I'm very lucky to be training for the O'Learys.
'It's unbelievable for Davy Russell. He's lost his mother and I'm sure his father Gerry is very proud at home watching. He had a new baby last week, too.
'Coming here I was really worried about the ground. All the way round I couldn't believe how he was going.'
The finish was symbolic of the battle between the powerhouse stables of Elliott and Mullins in Ireland.
Elliott led for much of the way in the race to be crowned champion trainer in his homeland last season, only to be caught by Mullins in the final days of the season.
This year Elliott holds a big lead heading into the final weeks and his General Principle narrowly outpointed the Mullins-trained Isleofhopendreams in the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse on Easter Monday.
Elliott said: 'Coming after the Cheltenham we had, we didn't dare dream this. We only beat him (Mullins) last week in the Irish National and now we've beaten him again, I can't believe it.
'Having to beat Willie is tough, he's an amazing man and sets the standards, one of the greatest of all time and to be training at the same time as him is unbelievable.'
Willie Mullins was coming up narrowly short in his bid to win a second Grand National.
He previously struck gold with Hedgehunter in 2005, and said: 'That's twice Gordon has done that to me, he did it in the Irish National too!
'He (Pleasant Company) seemed to get a little bit tired and then get a second wind.
'I never actually thought he'd got back up, but he ran a fantastic race. He jumped from fence to fence and you couldn't ask for any better.
'He was only beaten a head and at the last fence I thought we were going to be beaten eight or 10 lengths. I'm really proud of him, he jumped fantastic and he's one for next year.'
David Mullins was philosophical in defeat, saying: 'I was hoping and praying we'd get there.
'It was a four-and-a-quarter-mile race and a war of attrition. All you want is another five yards and you have it, but that's racing and I'm very lucky to have won it two years ago.
'He probably did a little bit too much with me, but I had to let him go after jumping the the Chair - he just winged fences.
'Davy went by me at the second-last on a fresh horse and I sort of said we weren't going to win that race to the Elbow. I said we'd get to there and have one crack at him.
'I was just thinking 'go' and was hoping the winning post was going to keep going, but it didn't.'
Bryony Frost fared best of the three female jockeys, coming home fifth aboard the Neil King-trained Milansbar.
She was smiling from ear to ear after enjoying an excellent first National ride, and said: 'It was just an amazing feeling. He gave me the best first spin I could ever ask for.
'He battled hard to be fifth and deserves every pat he has got. Everyone is in tears washing him down.
'It is an amazing race and you can be so proud of your horses and what you've asked them to do.
'Down by Valentine's he just started to come underneath me a little bit and I had to give him a minute, as it is a long way home.
'We went a lovely, even gallop and I kept him in his own space, but that is where he is happy at and you've got to ride them where they are happy.'