The oldest jockey in the race on the smallest horse. That was the partnership which won the 2018 Grand National at Aintree.
Tiger Roll, the diminutive gelding with the heart of a lion, held on by a neck from the fast-finishing Pleasant Company in a dramatic photo finish.
It was an emotional triumph for jockey Davy Russell, winning the National for the first time at his 14th attempt just weeks after the death of his beloved mother and birth of his fourth child, Liam.
“When the commentator said going out that I was the oldest jockey in the race, I thought: ‘Jesus, I better not come back next year,'” joked the 38-year-old.
Trainer Gordon Elliott was called a “genius” afterwards – and it was hard to argue after developing a little hurdler into the victor of the world’s most famous steeplechase.
This was a second success for him, after Silver Birch in 2007, and also for owner Michael O’Leary, the airline boss who triumphed with Rule The World two years ago.
And Irish trainers enjoyed a green sweep – with the first four home. Tiger Roll’s stablemate Bless The Wings was third, ahead of Anibale Fly.
Much of the pre-race coverage was dominated by three female jockeys bidding to become the first to win the race. Bryony Frost fared best, finishing a creditable fifth on Milansbar.
Redemption for Russell
Russell lost his role as stable jockey to Ryanair chief O’Leary’s powerful Gigginstown House Stud operation at the end of 2013.
The departure came over a cup of tea at Punchestown racecourse, and it would have been easy for the jockey to cry over spilt milk.
But he regrouped, won the Cheltenham Gold Cup three months later on Lord Windermere, and says he is happier now than earlier in his career when he over-analysed his performances.
After winning the world’s most famous jumps race on 10-1 chance Tiger Roll, he dedicated victory to Flat jockey Pat Smullen, who has been diagnosed with a tumour.
“I’ve won this race a thousand times in my head, in my dreams as a child,” he said, recalling how he built pretend National fences out of grass as a child when the garden was mowed.
“We would have races over them and kick the grass into the air like the spruce flying.”
His mother, Phyllis, died shortly before last month’s Cheltenham Festival and he paid tribute to her.
“She was always there throughout my career. She was a very kind woman – I never heard her curse. She was such a lady and a role model. It’s a pity she’s not here,” he said.
O’Leary hailed the man he is still happy to hire, despite firing him from the full-time role.
“We parted company after the most legendary cup of tea in Irish racing, but what stands out is his resilience, the way he keeps coming back,” he said.
Russell showed some of that resilience to recover from criticism last summer when he was given a four-day suspension for aiming a blow at his mount Kings Dolly, after the horse pulled up at a pre-race ‘show’ hurdle at Tramore.
The jockey had argued he wanted the horse to concentrate and it was inappropriate to use the whip in those circumstances.
Elliott – the training genius
Still only 40, Elliott continues his remarkable rise from journeyman jockey to top trainer.
He was leading trainer at the Cheltenham Festival last month for the second successive year.
And here he won the most famous race in jump racing with the eight-year-old son of Authorized, a winner of Flat racing’s Derby at Epsom in 2007.
Elliott’s right-hand man Mouse O’Ryan told BBC Sport: “Gordon’s just different, he’s a genius. I don’t think he even knows how he does it.
“With Tiger Roll, he has won three times at the Cheltenham Festival, starting with the Triumph Hurdle four years ago and also the Cross-Country Chase last month.
“He keeps his horses going. They are fit and healthy, and they last.”
O’Ryan also had a word for Russell.
“I’d say he’s a happier man. It’s probably down to old age. He’s settled with a wife and kids and probably riding better than ever before. He breeds horses and he loves horses,” he said.
Elliott was happy, saying he would enjoy this success more as he was too young the first time round, and could afford a little dig at O’Leary.
“I’m going home on the boat, the Ryanair flights were too expensive,” he said.
A dramatic National
There was drama from the off as the race took place in the softest conditions since 2001 after rain on Merseyside in the build-up.
Top weight Blaklion was brought down at the first fence, while the well-backed I Just Know fell at the sixth, Becher’s Brook.
The obstacle was bypassed on the second circuit as jockey Charlie Deutsch was attended to after a fall, but he was not seriously injured.
Saint Are, who was brought down at The Chair – the 15th of 30 fences – was being assessed on Saturday night.
As the race over 30 fences and four and a quarter miles unfolded, Russell and Tiger Roll took charge and looked set for a convincing success before the lead rapidly diminished as he was reeled in by Pleasant Company under David Mullins for his trainer uncle Willie.
After a photo finish, Tiger Roll was given the decision by a head – the closest verdict since Neptune Collonges won by a nose six years ago.
“I saw an awful lot of Pleasant Company going by me,” joked a relieved Russell afterwards.
Mullins, winner on Rule The World in 2016, showed maturity beyond his years after an agonising defeat.
“I was sick for a couple of seconds afterwards, but told myself that Davy Russell is 38 and had never won the race – but I won it when I was 19,” he said.
The winner showed good things can come in small packages.
“It depends on the size of the engine,” reflected Russell. “A Ferrari is a lot smaller than a Range Rover.”