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O'Leary on a roll with Grand National reflections

Michael O'Leary, winning owner of this year's Randox Health Grand National winner Tiger Roll at Aintree on Saturday, said at a press conference after the race: "We won this race two years ago, when I thought, 'Great, we might win another in 10 or 20 years' time'. We waited 15 years to win a Ryanair Chase, which we did last month at Cheltenham, and today we won the Ryanair Stayers' Hurdle, so we've won two Ryanairs in a month, and now two Nationals in two years.
 
"I think it's an incredible feat by Gordon to buy a horse that can win a Triumph Hurdle, who is only 15.2 or 15.3 hands high - he's a little rat of a thing - and while he won the Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham, these fences are much bigger. It is a massive training performance.
 
"When Gordon first won the National I thought 'Who the hell is he?', and it was only when he started racking up lots of winners at places like Ayr and Perth that I thought, 'This is something different'. We send horses to lots of trainers, and those that train winners get more horses, those that don't get less, and Gordon is setting different standards. To be champion trainer in Ireland in the past you needed to win 50 or 60 races, but now you need to win 100-plus, and he's doing that.
 
"There are now a number of seriously stupid people in Ireland like myself, J P McManus and Rich Ricci who are spending lots of money to keep the better horses at home, and that helps the trainers, too.
 
"It is also a wonderful day for Davy Russell, one of the best jockeys in Ireland for the last 10 to 15 years. It's known we've had our ups and our downs, but he has always come back better than ever. It is not the end of his career, but I think it is marvellous that he can now add the greatest steeplechase to his CV. It is my second National, Gordon's second, but Davy's first and a wonderful occasion for him, his family and his kids."
 
Russell was Gigginstown's retained jockey, was fired, but has steadily returned as O'Leary's most frequently chosen rider. 

O'Leary said: "It's well known we parted company over the most legendary cup of tea in racing. That was four or five years ago, and it says much about Davy's resilience the way he bounced back. In a group of elite Irish jockeys Davy is right up there - his career has been up and down, with periods of achievement but some lows, too, and it is the way he keeps coming back. He could have had a huff and given up, but after a couple of quiet years he has come back.
 
"Now he is riding better than ever before and will be champion jockey in Ireland. A P McCoy rode one winner of this race in 20 years, Ruby has won one, Barry has too, and now Davy has and it's a great thing to have on your CV."
 
O'Leary paid tribute to bloodstock agent Mags O'Toole who buys many of his horses, saying: "She bought Tiger Roll at the sales with my brother Eddie and Gordon - she has an amazing record at buying good horses, although in her wildest dreams I don't believe she thought this one could win a National. She deserves as much credit as Davy and Gordon.
 
"We never thought he was going to make a chaser. After he won the Triumph Hurdle we thought he might run in the following year's County Hurdle, but it's tough as they progress. I said we might as well try him over fences, but as he's got older and the longer he goes - this is part of the phenomenal training performance - the better he has become."

O'Leary then made a joke at the expense of his company, when saying: "I've got to catch a Ryanair flight from Liverpool airport in two hours, and now I've got to get a Ryanair trophy and a Randox Health trophy onto the flight - it's certainly going to cost me a lot of the prizemoney in excess baggage fees."
 
Davy Russell had just won the greatest steeplechase, the Randox Health Grand National, on Tiger Roll, but it was merely another among the 'thousands' he had already ridden.
 
After his fourteenth attempt on the Aintree version, and first success in it, he reflected on his childhood in Ireland, and said: "This time of year you get the first cut of grass in the garden, and there was no such thing as lawnmowers with collecting buckets on them in those days. It became the one time when I enjoyed raking up the grass and would make the piles into Aintree fences.
 
"We would have races over them and kick the grass into the air like the spruce flying - I have actually won the Grand National thousands of times, in races with my cousins, friends and siblings."
 
Russell was third last year on Saint Are, and he said: "I probably gained a bit of confidence from that race, and felt maybe I could win the National. I had been thinking, 'This is impossible to win', especially when you've had 13 goes. Last year they described me as 'Davy Russell, the race's oldest jockey', and I thought 'Jees I won't be back next year!'.
 
"Today's win exceeds everything else I've won because it's such a hard race to win. You dream about it, but thousands of things have to happen in your favour to win the race. It's hard to explain. I never wake up thinking how I'm going to win the race, I wake up wondering how I'm going to get over the first couple of fences.
 
"I rode Saint Are last year and he is 17hh, and today I rode this little fella, but Ferraris are smaller than Range Rovers and still very good.
 
"I promise you I put no thought into today's National - the one I wanted to win was on Petit Mouchoir [who was second in Gigginstown colours in the Doom Bar Maghull Novices' Chase]. I was a little sore in the shoulder after a fall a couple of weeks ago, and while having a bit of physio before today's race I nearly talked myself out of winning it.
 
"I watched the Masters golf last week, and some of the top players said you can over-prepare. I used to put so much thought into the National - looking at the race and saying this can jump, that can't jump, go here, go there, follow that horse, that I ended up confusing myself. Now I don't care what anyone else is doing, I just concentrate on doing my own thing. 
 
"I used to try and nick a bit of ground here and there, but today I just went down the middle, and my horse jumped great. You can look smart after winning the National, but to be honest it just worked out. It's an amazing game.
 
"I won't be celebrating tonight because I have a wife and four kids to support so I've got to go to Tramore tomorrow to try and ride a couple of winners."     
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