Is it really two years since Derek Fox experienced the day of days, urging the relentless galloper One For Arthur into the lead jumping the final fence in the Aintree Grand National and maintaining the momentum all the way to the line for a memorable victory in the most famous national hunt race on the planet?
It was heady stuff for the then 24-year-old pilot from Sligo, who had been going about his business as first jockey to Lucinda Russell in Scotland without the rest of the world taking much notice until lining up in the National for the first time.
The media descended, Fox’s story accentuated by how close he had come to having to forfeit the mount due to a broken wrist and fractured collarbone suffered only four weeks previously.
“At the time there was woeful hype,” Fox recalls. “Six months felt like a few weeks, it just went by very quick. It was hard to believe at the time but as things go on, it settles down and you just go back to your old routine.”
There was never any danger of suffering any negative repercussions, of finding the bread and butter mundane.
“I enjoy going racing. Winning a Grand National obviously makes you hungrier for more winners and you hope to get more big winners. It gives you a bit of confidence if nothing else but I still enjoy going to all the wee meetings.”
Fox enjoyed his best season numerically last term, piloting 27 winners.
“I’m based at Lucinda’s and she’s always looking for young horses, she buys a lot of Irish point-to-pointers and you’re always hoping that the young horses that you’re winning a bumper or maiden hurdle on can some day go on and make into a nice chaser,” he says. “You keep looking for the good ones.
“She’s brilliant to work for and she looks after me very well. I like working in the yard most of the time rather than freelancing too much. I know all the horses at home individually. I like that. You have a bond, you know plenty about a young horse, have a good insight into it even though it hasn’t much racing done.”
If Russell and her partner Peter Scudamore have been key figures in Fox’s development, perhaps the most important has been his uncle Mark McNiff, who supplied his first winner as a professional eight years ago and remains chief counsellor.
“It’s always nice to get a winner for Mark,” he says. “I go back and ride for him as much as I can during the summer. He’s always good for advice as well on every situation. He knows me very well and my style of riding. He watches me regularly so he’s a great asset to have.”
The next fortnight could be huge for the jockey.
“Big River ran a great race at Cheltenham when he finished fourth,” he says. “He’ll go for the Scottish National now. It’ll be his first time up to four miles and I think it’ll really suit him. I’ll be really looking forward to him. I think he really has a live chance.
“Forest des Aigle ha been a great horse. I’ve won four races on him since he came to Lucinda’s. He ran a nice race in the Grand Sefton and I think he wasn’t 100 per cent on the day. He ran a good race to a point and seemed to flatten out in the last couple of furlongs when it looked like he’d have every chance at the second last.
“He was a wee bit disappointing at Cheltenham after that in January but he came back and had a prep run over two miles at Ayr a few weeks ago and finished second. He ran a brilliant race, he was only beaten a couple of lengths and was really staying going through the line. Touch wood, he’s a brilliant jumper as well and I’m really looking forward to him in the Topham as much as the National.”
The National is the National though. A tendon injury kept One For Arthur on the sidelines for 609 days. When he returned to the scene of his heroics, the son of Milan uncharacteristically unseated Tom Scudamore at just the third obstacle.
Then, he was running well in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock in January when he got rid of Fox. An intended engagement at Kelso was missed due to unsuitable ground. It hasn’t been an ideal preparation at all but Fox is unworried.
“In one sense it’s frustrating but to me he wasn’t going to run a bad race at Haydock when I was unseated off him four out. He was going to be in the middle of them. Had I stayed on that day and completed, people would have a very different look at the thing.
“It’s very difficult to know at home but I think Lucinda has him in great order. The two runs he’s had over the big fences, he seems a better horse there than anyone else. It seems silly after unseating twice but he’s really come to himself.
“It’s ironic. You couldn’t describe him as anything but a very, very good jumper. He has tremendous scope and is very clever – apart from this year. He’s always been very natural. I can’t really explain (the unseats) but hopefully that’s behind him and it will all come together on the day.
“I schooled him at Carlisle after racing and he jumped great and felt really well. It’s not going to read well when you read the form but I have no concerns. I’m happy the way he’s going, he’s very fit and I think he’ll be as fit as he can be for the day. The way he felt in Carlisle the other day, I’d be more than confident. He’s loads of work done, he’s really fit but he’s fresh as well. He still has an edge on him. I think it’s starting to come right for him.”
Sunday Indo Sport