LONDON, United Kingdom |(AFP) - Tiger Roll has been called both a "little rat" and "lion-hearted" but the latter quality will be needed if he is to emulate the legendary Red Rum and win back to back Grand Nationals on Saturday (April 6, 2019).
Davy Russell will once again be in the saddle -- trainer Gordon Elliott contributes an astonishing 13 of the 40 runners -- and is a hot favourite to become the first horse since Red Rum in 1973/74 to win the world's greatest steeplechase on successive occasions.
The annihilation of a classy field in the Cross Country race at Cheltenham last month suggested it will take a monumental performance to prevent him from doing so.
Russell credited Tiger Roll for being lion-hearted -- his owner the never shy Michael O'Leary responsible for labelling him a "little rat of a thing" -- but the 39-year-old jockey has sent out mixed signals as to whether he can pull off the feat.
"We all know that it is virtually impossible," said Russell.
"You need an extraordinary horse to do that."
However, he added a caveat.
"He is probably the type of horse who could because he does not over-exert himself through the season."
Nevertheless, even if he does cross the line in front those who grew up on the Red Rum legend -- such as Donald McCain the son of 'Rummie's' trainer Ginger -- will not be mentioning him in the same breath.
"I think Tiger Roll has a great chance of winning another National," said McCain, who trained a National winner himself in Ballabriggs in 2011.
"But in regards of emulating Red Rum, and I know I'm a little bit biased, that ship has sailed."
Tiger Roll will come across some familiar faces when they line-up at 1615 GMT on Saturday including Pleasant Company, the horse that rallied to almost deny him last year.
He is one of four runners from Elliott's great rival Willie Mullins's yard, with Rathvinden being the preferred pick of his number one jockey Ruby Walsh.
"He's a safe jumper who stays -- but he's won over shorter, so he's got pace," Walsh told Racing TV.
"He ticks a lot of boxes -- but you still need a lot of luck," added Walsh, whose second and last victory in the race was on Mullins's Hedgehunter in 2005.
Bless The Wings and Anibale Fly, third and fourth last year completing an Irish sweep of the podium, are also back but the former, doughty performer though he is, at 14 age is against him.
Anibale Fly carries top weight but comes into the race with an excellent second in the blue riband of jump racing the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
With Bryony Frost out of action with a broken collarbone hopes of a first win for a woman jockey lie with Lizzie Kelly on Tea For Two -- whose form has soured -- and top Irish rider Rachael Blackmore on outsider Valseur Lido who finished eighth last year.
The chances are more likely a woman trainer will be popping the champagne with Lucinda Russell hoping One For Arthur can repeat his heroics from 2017 although his form has not been eye-catching this term.
Sue Smith has also tasted National glory with Auroras Encore in 2013 and runs Vintage Clouds who would give former Blackpool Tower owner Trevor Hemmings a record fourth win in the race.
Irish training great Jessica Harrington has waited a long time and aged 72 fields her first ever runner in Magic Of Light but it is Wales-based Rebecca Curtis who could come out on top with last year's Scottish Grand National winner Joe Farrell.
He only just scraped into the field on Thursday but has been well backed.
"It would be some fairy-tale if he wins, having not been sure he was even going to get in," said Curtis.
The real fairy-tale, though, would be if either legendary trainer Nicky Henderson (Valtor) or champion jockey Richard Johnson (Rock The Kasbah is a record 21st ride for him) finally win the National.
"It would mean a heck of a lot," Henderson told AFP.