Another entrant was enlisted into the equine hall of fame this month when a remarkable race horse out-performed all others to win the Randox Health Grand National at Aintree, not for the first but the second time in as many years.

By winning the Grand National back to back – the first horse since the famous Red Rum in 1973/74 and only one of a handful of dual winners in the history of this world-famous race – Tiger Roll’s victory was just what the racing world needed to maintain the popularity of the sport and the incredible story of this illustrious race.

Thankfully, there was no talk of Brexit, nor the contentious ‘back stop’ agreement as the nation celebrated this all-Ireland success for that it was from head to toe. Bred by Gerry O’Brien, from Tipperary, his breeder was a member of Coolmore’s veterinary team for some 27 years and it was there that he found a passion for breeding race horses.

A small time breeder by contrast to some of his customers, he has enjoyed much success – although the mating of the home-bred, Swiss Roll, to the 2007 Derby winner, Authorized, was aimed at producing a winner on the flat rather than over jumps.

Tiger Roll was sold as a foal to Godolphin Racing for £70,000 but never raced. He was then sold to West Country trainer, Nigel Hawke, for a fraction of that three years later. It was Hawkes who first realised his ability by taking a juvenile hurdle with him at Market Rasen, in November, 2013.

Then, it was the consequent sale in 2014 to Michael O’Leary’s famous Gigginstown House Stud that saw the gelding head to his present trainer, Gordon Elliott, who trains in Co Meath.

It was his Aintree jockey, Irishman Davy Russell, who rode to him to the first of four Cheltenham victories when Tiger Roll won the Triumph Hurdle in 2014. In 2017, he led the National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup and the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase in March, 2018 and March, 2019, both prior to his respective Grand National wins.

To date he has won four times over hurdles, eight times over fences and a good number of places during his career – his last two ‘National’ wins (amounting to £1m) brings his total earnings to well over £1.36m.

Commenting on his future plans for his champion, Ryanair boss, Michael O’Leary, maintained that he wouldn’t be back for a third try at the National but hopes that aiming to win the Glenfarclas Cross Country race at Cheltenham for the third time would be a fitting climax to a wonderful career.

Head down and understandably looking somewhat exhausted after his race, Tiger Roll appeared even smaller than his 15.2hh size would suggest as two big police horses escorted him into the winner’s enclosure.

With the pundits and commentators showing little respect for the remarkable achievements of this brave little horse by crying out for a third try at the National, one can only hope that his owner sticks to his guns and allows his winner to bow out with his record intact but, more importantly, sound with retirement from racing ahead.

As I watched the racing at Aintree, I couldn’t help but reflect on the action of the Jockey Club in response to the outbreak of equine influenza earlier in the year.

As I maintained in previous articles, I think they made a good call and continue to marvel at the influence that decision has made on the rest of the equestrian community, especially those involved in competition.

I have often said the normally fatal grass sickness disease certainly would have secured a huge amount of funding for research and possible cure had the Thoroughbred industry endured the same hardship it has caused many horse and pony owners living in Scotland.

Similarly, strangles, the most prevalent infectious equine disease in the UK with more than 600 reported outbreaks each year, may well have been eradicated by now had there been a major outbreak in race horses across the country.

Highly contagious, it could bring the racing industry to a standstill in much the same way as ‘flu’. Without wishing this disease on any sector of the horse world, any horse or owner, there is a reality that strangles could be eradicated in Britain if more people took action.

This was the message that came across loud and clear from various high-profile contributors at a recent symposium called ‘Together we can stamp out strangles’, which was held at The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, near Edinburgh. Sponsored by Redwings Horse Sanctuary and the British Horse Society (BHS), with collaboration from SRUC, the University of Edinburgh, the Animal Health Trust (AHT) and World Horse Welfare, it brought together a wide range of equestrian interests to discuss the better prevention and management of the disease.

There were a number of useful and interesting contributions as well as opportunities to share ideas and good practice.

Unlike a disease such as foot-and-mouth, strangles is not notifiable although some people think that it should be. One thing for sure, it appears to attract considerable stigma and seems to bring out the worst in the keyboard warriors of social media which tends to exacerbate the situation by sending it ‘underground’ rather than help resolve it.

There is so much information available for people to learn more. As far back as 2007, the BHS and AHT worked together to produce a booklet which provides advice on what should be done when an outbreak occurs as well as quarantine when introducing new horses or ponies to your premises. It all makes sense and is straight forward.

As one of the invited guests, I discovered some aspects of the disease which I didn’t appreciate. I knew there was a vaccine but didn’t know that the one currently available has a short life span, so was unlikely to be taken up by horse/pony owners.

There is an ongoing programme to develop more effective vaccines and ones which might be able to combine with others such as ‘flu’ or tetanus.

I wasn’t aware of Scotland’s Rural College’s ‘Premium Assured Strangles Scheme’ for certification of yards. I didn’t appreciate, either, that the carriers presented a greater concern than those showing symptoms as they are ones which go unnoticed and have the potential to perpetuate the disease.

Clinical signs are normally obvious, so there is no excuse for owners not to take action and yard owners have a duty of care to all their horses to take action through increased biosecurity and isolation measures at the least.

Economics place pressure on the latter as well as identification and treatment, although keeping things clean costs almost nothing. With funding for unilateral action to be taken by government unlikely, particularly since the disease is species specific and essentially not affecting the human population, it looks like the equine industry may have to look to measures of eradication if individuals are not prepared to act responsibly and face the financial burden themselves.

However, it is not impossible for testing at least of potential carriers to be funded through something such as a levy on bags of horse feed for a specified period of time, say 12 months. The money raised would fund a large number of free strangles tests and with the prospect of eradicating the disease, such a scheme would surely make the project acceptable to horse owners across the board.

Scottish Government, please take note.

Before signing off, I return to Tiger Roll. In my view, he is easily the most versatile racehorse in history. His double Aintree victories as well as wins at Cheltenham over hurdles, chase and cross country fences and distances, ranging from two to four miles, are surely proof enough.

No previous horse compares and not likely to either. His superiority has not been hampered by size, as the current trend towards tall horses might suggest and it possibly exists due more to his make and shape than his breeding.

There is no question that he is a beautiful little horse and described by his owner: “He is endowed with perfect conformation, balance and a unique presence. Indeed, he is an artist’s dream to paint or sculpt.”

From what I’ve seen, I couldn’t agree more.