Zoey Bird's five favourite Grand Nationals: Sky Sports Racing presenter picks her Aintree memories

Sky Sports Racing presenter Zoey Bird picks out her most memorable renewals of the Grand National from the last 25 years.

TIGER ROLL (2019)

The anticipation ahead of Tiger Roll’s bid to win two Grand Nationals on the spin was immense, on a par with Red Rum’s historic second and third wins I should imagine, being too young to remember them first-hand! As we know, plenty of horses who have won the Grand National are then fancied to win it again the following year but not like this fella.

He was backed into 4/1, the shortest-priced favourite for the race in 100 years. It was as if it were Tiger Roll’s destiny to follow up in Red Rum’s hooves, carry top weight and win back-to-back renewals, 45 years later.

Fortunately, that exceedingly high expectation was justified in the easy nature of Tiger Roll’s victory when winning the world’s greatest race for the second time.

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Small in stature yet with the heart of, in this case, a tiger, Tiger Roll shared quite a few similarities with his legendary predecessor Red Rum, also being bay, good looking, very nimble, a superb jumper of a fence, with a real will to win and of course that staying power.

I remember the course being packed to the rafters on a beautiful early April, late afternoon and all eyes were on Tiger Roll and his rider Davy Russell. On the first circuit, there were a few sketchy early jumps but then it was clear that Davy and Tiger had got into a beautiful rhythm and from Becher’s onwards the pair barely missed a beat. Second time round they were really swinging along, gobbling up the ground tenaciously, drawing ever closer to the weakening Rathvinden.

With one of the form horses now beat it was just Magic Of Light left to take care of and a superior jump at the last from Tiger sealed the deal and all that stood between the pair and history was the Elbow, which had been an Achilles heel for some but not for Tiger.

What followed was jubilation, not relief, just sheer joy and pride exuding from the millions who had supported this little horse who had now made history. He had now achieved celebrity status.

How I wish Michael O’Leary was running Tiger Roll in this year’s Grand National. Looking at the ease with which he won the cross country at Cheltenham, I believe he would have had a strong chance of emulating the mighty Red Rum by winning a third Grand National, and what a story that would be.

One that the sport and those connected to him would have been truly thankful for.

DON’T PUSH IT (2010)

AP McCoy, THE greatest National Hunt Jockey we have ever seen, had quite remarkably up until April 10, 2010, and 14 previous attempts, not managed to win the Grand National. A lot was made of this shortcoming by the media and of course the man himself, who was notorious for wearing a hair shirt, despite his record-breaking achievements and legendary status.

I’d say probably from about the turn of the century, McCoy was hounded by his Aintree hoodoo in the build-up to each and every National. Can he finally break his Grand National duck this time, the one big race that was missing from his CV?

AP had gone fairly close on occasions; Blowing Wind was fancied and placed twice, Clan Royal was going so well until being carried out by a loose horse but it wasn’t until 2010 that the stars were aligned and fittingly the same connections as the unlucky Clan Royal and the ill-fated Synchronised struck gold with Don’t Push It. And were it not for trainer Jonjo O’Neill insisting AP ride Don’t Push It, the champ’s wait for glory would have been a little longer.

Although the performance of the pair throughout the race was textbook, it was vintage AP on a horse whose name was the very opposite of his lifelong mantra.

It was the result and the aftermath that followed that will always stick in my mind; the raw emotion of it all. We saw a very different side to the iron jockey. He was visibly moved by the achievement and the occasion and what it all meant to his supporters, family and friends.

It was a first Grand National success for trainer Jonjo O’Neill and owner JP McManus, two legends of our sport who were friends and had been through so much together. Their stories intertwined with the Grand National win, having a touch of serendipity about it. Usually after the big race I make a quick getaway as it’s a four-hour drive home, this time I stayed swept up in it all, privileged to have been there.

I might even have shed a tear.

MON MOME (2009)

I like a bet but am often proved wrong in the case of the Grand National, as were most people in 2009, the year that Mon Mome won at odds of 100/1. I remember my now-husband was working for a bookmaker at the time and was asked by his gran to put £5 on number five for her, as she had done every year, but this time he had forgotten; a costly oversight!

It looked a fairly open renewal on paper with the previous year’s winner Comply or Die having a leading chance in the race along with favourite Butler’s Cabin for AP and JP. The starts proved a bit of a shambles and the race itself was a muddling affair but Mon Mome’s passage throughout it was smooth.

Having said that, this was the case for several others and after Becher’s Brook on the second circuit over half the field were still in contention. It was the way Mon Mome powered away from the last to win by 12 lengths under young Liam Treadwell that was totally unexpected.

Even as the finish was unfolding in front of our very eyes, it was hard to believe what you were actually seeing and this feeling of total disbelief was felt by all of his connections. Trainer Venetia Williams describing it as surreal and that it would take time to fully sink in and 76-year-old winning owner Vida Bingham saying it was the best day of her life, bar none, was quite something. The pair of ladies made history by becoming the first female trainer/owner combination to win the Grand National.

And we will never forget the young man on board for the superb ride he gave Mon Mome, on his first ever ride in the race. It was a fairytale ending for this unassuming team that is now tinged with great sadness as we look back, for the loss of Liam Treadwell who took his own life last year.

PAPILLION (2000)

Although I think AP is the Greatest National Hunt jockey we have ever seen, in some ways Ruby Walsh and Paul Carberry bettered him, especially when it came to the Grand National. Maybe that has something to do with their ancestry and heritage in the greatest race, a race in which there are many similarities between these two great riders.

Papillion’s win in 2000 was one of my first ever memories of the race and even before the race was run there were so many angles to the story. Firstly, there was the massive gamble. Papillion started the day a 33/1 shot, a pretty big price for a horse who had come second in an Irish National to Bobbyjo the year before but by the time of the race he was sent off 10/1.

Then there was the fact that Ruby Walsh was just 19 years of age and was having his first ever ride in the race and finally, and most importantly there was the family factor. Papillion was ridden by Ruby Walsh, trained by dad Ted Walsh, lead up by sister Katie Walsh, with brother Mark Walsh an integral part of team Papillion too.

Always in a prominent position up the inside, Ruby and Papillon were like poetry in motion, jumping rhythmically and in an assured fashion, jumping having always been the horse’s strong suit – probably the best jumper of a fence he has ever ridden, said Ruby looking back after his retirement. High praise indeed!

They did fluff The Chair on the first circuit, getting too close but recovering well, then flew it second time around, racing wide and avoiding the carnage on the inside.

Jumping his way to the front all that stood between the pair and winning the greatest race was the challenging Mely Moss up the run in. But ultimately team Walsh and Papillion proved too strong. Brother Mark was first to congratulate Ruby, then sister Katie and just like Paul Carberry before him, we all knew we had seen something very special.

BOBBYJO (1999)

Bobbyjo’s win in the Grand National in 1999 was a turning point for the Irish. There hadn’t been an Irish-trained winner of the race since L’Escargot’s win in 1975. Rather fittingly the winning jockey back then was Tommy Carberry, 24 years on he was the trainer of Bobbyjo and his son Paul was the rider.

Having won the Irish National the year before Bobbyjo had the raw ability to win a National but not necessarily the right credentials and was in the build-up to the race overlooked in the betting. That was until the day of the race and just like Papillion a year later, he was the subject of a pretty big gamble!

The early part of the race couldn’t have gone any better, Paul Carberry had Bobbyjo smuggled away down the inside popping fences and standing off as required. The second circuit was much the same but then two from home the pair had four horses to get past and none of them appeared to be floundering.

However it had been a typical Carberry ride, the master of disguise, as at the last Bobbyjo was full of running, charged up the centre of the course past Blue Charm and shot up the Elbow to win by 10 lengths.

Stunning though his victory was, it was Paul’s celebration afterwards that I recall the most, as it became so famous. Paul had initially looked fairly composed as he made his way through the course, flanked by police horses walked back to the old winner’s enclosure on Bobbyjo with the occasional wave of his whip.

However, once under the roof he stood up in his irons reached up to the rafters and swung back and forth like an excited chimpanzee, buzzing on the adrenalin and the enormity of his win. Paul wasn’t just a brilliant jockey but a jockey with flair and he had a huge personality.

This win really marked him out for me as one of the all-time greats.

Follow the build-up to the 2021 Grand National on Sky Sports Racing and coverage of the race across Sky Sports’ digital platforms.

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