Derek Fox in dreamland after One For Arthur wins Grand National

Chris Cook at Aintree
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">One For Arthur, ridden by Derek Fox, leads the field in the closing stages on the way to victory in the Grand National.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Peter Haygarth/Action Plus via Getty Images</span>
One For Arthur, ridden by Derek Fox, leads the field in the closing stages on the way to victory in the Grand National. Photograph: Peter Haygarth/Action Plus via Getty Images

Alongside the efforts by all of those connected with One For Arthur, a portion of this Grand National victory belongs to Jack Berry House, a £3m rehabilitation facility set up by the Injured Jockeys Fund that will shortly mark the second anniversary of its opening. If that money had never been found, Derek Fox would not have recovered in time to deliver one of the coolest winning rides in the long history of this famous race, having broken a wrist and a collarbone a month ago.

Sending Fox to live there at Malton in North Yorkshire was rather a desperate throw of the dice after the tumble he took at Carlisle on 9 March. While brave statements were made in public, private doubt prevailed.

“There were times when I thought: ‘Not a hope, it’s too good to be true, I’m only dreaming,’” Fox said here when asked if he imagined he would recover in time.

“I thought he’d got no chance,” said Peter Scudamore, partner of the winning trainer, Lucinda Russell, and a former champion jump jockey who knows as well as anyone how long it takes to recover from such injuries, even allowing for the granite wilfulness that seems to be such a widespread characteristic in the weighing room.

A week ago, Fox was having to use his left fist when doing press-ups because using his fingers would have put too much of a strain on the broken wrist. “I’m sure it’s all mended now,” Scudamore added hastily.

Fox spent three weeks at Jack Berry House, leaving just in time to be examined by a British Horseracing Authority doctor on Monday, when he was passed fit to ride again.

He took five rides before climbing aboard One For Arthur, enough to establish that he was fit to do the job, not so many as to raise a serious risk of aggravating the injuries.

“It was touch and go,” he said, shortly before being presented with the trophy. “I was very worried, it was obviously such a big opportunity to ride the horse. After two weeks, I was more and more confident. I couldn’t have been fitter, considering I was off for that length of time.”

Of the staff at Jack Berry House, he said: “They were unbelievable, they did a massive job with me, keeping me fit and well. I did a lot of physio work in the hydropool and a lot of physical training on the work-bike and different things like that to keep my fitness up.”

Berry, now in his late 70s, was a highly successful trainer who has been a longstanding lynchpin for the Injured Jockeys Fund, set up after an injury sustained by Paddy Farrell in a Grand National of the 60s.

A statue of Berry wearing one of his famous red shirts now stands outside the house that bears his name.

Scudamore paid lavish tribute to Berry’s tireless fundraising efforts that produced a building on which so many northern-based riders now rely. “I was a trustee of the IJF and you sit in meetings, trying to do something serious, save the world, save all the jockeys, and Jack Berry comes in and said: ‘I’m going to build a house in Malton with millions of pounds.’ And you think: ‘Jack, I know you’ve got energy, you’re more famous and everything than me but this is stupid. Let’s go back to a topic that is achievable.’

“I went there for the first time a week ago and I just thought ... human spirit. This is what somebody with determination can do.

“Two of the greatest people I’ve ever come across in racing are John Oaksey [a founder of the IJF] and Jack Berry and you’ve got Oaksey House in Lambourn and Jack Berry House in Malton. It’s lovely at these moments to consider the whole picture. Without them, he [Fox] wouldn’t have got there.”

The 24-year-old Fox was taking part in the National for the first time. Born in Sligo, he caught Russell’s eye when winning a Grade Three contest at Limerick in 2013 and he had joined her Kinross stable by the end of the year.

It has been a successful partnership, cemented by this outstanding moment of glory, which prompted him to call her “as good a trainer as there is, especially of a staying chaser”.

Fox must take a major share of the credit for so patiently giving One For Arthur the time he needed to work his way into the race. “He’s a terrifically brave man,” said Scudamore, the kind of praise, coming from a place of such authority, that any jockey would die for.

“I know that Derek is an excellent jockey, you don’t have to give him any orders. I just said: ‘I wouldn’t go down the inner,’ because I didn’t want him getting trapped there, I knew the horse wouldn’t lie up early.”

Indeed, One For Arthur was so far back for so long that Scudamore was watching his son, Tom, on Vieux Lion Rouge, as the field came to Becher’s Brook for the second time.

“When I saw Tom drop out and continued to watch Arthur ... it was surreal,” said Scudamore.

Fox said: “After we went one circuit, I was thinking: ‘I can’t be going as well as I am.’ I was close enough to the leaders. He jumped so well, he was making two or three lengths at every fence. I was closing, closing ...

“The whole race couldn’t have gone any more to plan. I had an idea he was going to be a wee bit one-paced early on and could find himself further back but I was just happy to let him travel in his comfort zone and creep away on him.

“He’s such a brave horse, he just jumped and travelled all the way into the race and I finished up nearly going too well.

“I was nearly having to wait on him going to two out. I thought he was in front in plenty of time. He just kept going all the way to the line. Unbelievable.”

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