Interview with Derek Fox - Desktop Image

  1. Can you remember the first time you sat on Corach Rambler, and what was your first impression of him?
  2. How do you think Corach Rambler has changed in the past three years?
  3. We know you as the rarest of things, a two-time Grand National winning jockey, but what's been your worst experience riding over the big fences?
  4. Do you think winning the Grand National twice has changed your life in any way or changed the way you ride?
  5. There are several changes to the race this year, with 34 total runners, the first fence coming 60 yards closer to the start, and a standing start. How much difference do you think this will make and in particular, do you think the standing start gives you any concerns?
  6. We've grown accustomed to seeing Corach Rambler pounce from well off the pace, but in the National last year he was never that far from the lead. Was that a conscious decision by you or did the cards just fall differently that day?
  7. We can see all the action in detail but we can never properly hear it. How much jockey chat or like shouting is there? What's the noise that stays with you after the race?
  8. Last year the going was described as good-to-soft. This year, soft ground looks on the cards. Do you think that's a negative for Corach Rambler? If so, why do you think that?
  9. Some horses shine the first time they encounter the big fences, but for whatever reason, don't necessarily shine on the second occasion. Do you have any reservations for Corach Rambler on that front?
  10. How do you rate your chances of winning the Grand National this year?
  11. How much is your performance in the Gold Cup raised hopes ahead of the race?
  12. How worried were you about potentially missing the Grand National due to a ban?
  13. In the past, you've had a history of last-minute scares before previous Grand National successes. So, do you think this one could be a bit of a good omen for you?
  14. What do you think the secret behind your success is at Aintree with Lucinda Russell?
  15. Ahead of the Grand National, only Red Rum and Tiger Roll have ever won the race more than once. What do you think sets those horses apart from the rest? And do you think Corach Rambler shares any of those attributes?
  16. It’s said that the Grand National is a bit of a lottery. As someone who's won it twice, do you think there's some truth in that, or do you think it's total nonsense to call it a lottery?
  17. Rachel Blackmore won the Grand National a few years ago. She was the first woman to ever do so, obviously. Have you noticed a change in participation in the sport since Rachel's win?
  18. Which horses do you think are looking strong in their respective races throughout the weekend at Aintree- not just the Grand National?
  19. Jockey Stefano Cerci sadly passed away recently after a horror fall in Canberra Australia. How much of an impact did that have on the sport as a whole do you think?
  20. Is there much difference, do you think, in the safety precautions you get at different courses, like comparing the UK to internationally, for instance?
  21. You yourself suffered a pretty nasty fall. As someone who's taken part in over a hundred races, does the sport cause you any fear or do you just completely put that to one side?
  22. Do you think horse racing could become a bit more global by relaxing rules on where the jockeys can race? A bit like the Champions League in European football, for instance?
  23. Do you think traditional prestigious racers like the Grand National and the Kentucky Derby are at risk of becoming a bit less desirable for jockeys when you've got races like the Saudi Cup with bigger passes for instance?
  24. Lucinda Russell was the trainer on both occasions where you won the national. How important do you think that relationship between the jockey and their trainer is?
  25. And what are the most important qualities that you look for in a winning horse?
  26. And can you always tell when a horse is ready? Or do they sometimes surprise you on race day?
  27. Are there any horses you've ridden throughout your career that you can't believe you never won anything with?
  28. And how do you prepare for the big race? What strategies do you use to ensure you get the best performance out of the horses you ride?
  29. Are there any jockeys or even horses who always give you a hard time whenever you come up against them?
  30. And aside from winning the Grand National, what other career highlights are you particularly proud of?
  31. Is there a particular race or moment in your career that you feel was a turning point that almost made you feel like you belong among the best?
  32. And how did you find yourself in horse racing? Like, are there any lessons that younger jockeys can take from your experience?
  33. What do you think have been some key lessons you've learned throughout your career that have made you a better jockey?
  34. How long do you see yourself racing for? Do you see yourself in the saddle until your forties?
  35. Do you have any thoughts on what you'd like to do after horse racing, or are you very much just in the moment right now?
  36. If you do get the other eight years out of it, how would you think you want to be remembered in the world of horse racing?
  37. A few more national titles would be nice as well, wouldn't it?

In this exclusive interview, we catch up with two-time Grand National winning jockey - Derek Fox. Find out what his first impressions were of Corach Rambler, why he makes such a great champion and why it's so important for jockey and trainer to have a strong working relationship plus much more.

Can you remember the first time you sat on Corach Rambler, and what was your first impression of him?

Yeah, I remember the first morning I ever rode him was, at the Kilduff Yard at Lucinda Russell’s. There are two yards, Kilduff and Arlary, and he was over at the Kilduff Yard, and it was a bit of work up and down the grass and he was very straightforward. It wasn't a hard bit or anything like that, he did everything lovely and I didn't realize at the time, how good he was going to be, but at the same time, he did everything right.

How do you think Corach Rambler has changed in the past three years?

I think he's probably had a slow enough start at one point in his career. He's taken, I think five runs to win, he wasn't an overly expensive horse at the start either. Since he's come to Lucinda Russell’s, from the first day I ever rode him on the track, he was in a three-mile maiden hurdler there and he won that day. I think he didn't win by too far and he wasn't overly impressive in the fact he won by a few lengths and he'd make you work for it. He's just kept progressing all the way through since then.

We know you as the rarest of things, a two-time Grand National winning jockey, but what's been your worst experience riding over the big fences?

The first time I ever rode over the big fences was on the Becher Chase, I was actually running okay. I was dropped in a bit and I was staying on, definitely for a place, and was going to be in the shake-up at the finish for Patrick Griffin on a horse called Portrait King. Unfortunately, I jumped left and caught the heels of the horse in front of me and I fell at the second last when staying on from the back. That was obviously not in the Grand National, it was the Becher Chase, but it was very annoying at the time.

Do you think winning the Grand National twice has changed your life in any way or changed the way you ride?

Oh yeah, listen, before I won the National, I was going around under the radar. I think when I won the Grand National in 2017 on One For Arthur, that kind of propelled me into the spotlight. To win it again on Corach Rambler just made me twice as well-known. So, yeah, it's been life-changing really.

There are several changes to the race this year, with 34 total runners, the first fence coming 60 yards closer to the start, and a standing start. How much difference do you think this will make and in particular, do you think the standing start gives you any concerns?

No, I think from my experience with big fields anyway, the standing start can happen. If you break the tape the first time, it goes back to a standing start. So in my opinion, in a race like the Grand National, even without this rule, there was nearly a 70-30 chance of it happening as a standing start because people rushed the tape so often. So, instead of calling it a false start, they've gone straight for the standing start.

I don't know how it's going to work. It is still going to be causing people to stand on top of the tape, which won't work either. But hopefully, on the day everyone will take their time walking in and not get too close to the tape. I don't think it's going to be a big concern really for me.

With the first fence being sixty yards close to the start, I don't know if that'll make a massive difference. It should help a little bit, but I think the main difference that we'll notice more will be the six fewer runners. It'll just create a bit more space going to the first fence. That’ll be the most drastic change really.

We've grown accustomed to seeing Corach Rambler pounce from well off the pace, but in the National last year he was never that far from the lead. Was that a conscious decision by you or did the cards just fall differently that day?

No, I was prepared. I think Corach Rambler developed his own tactics really in a race. It was never the intention to be so far back, but sometimes it takes him time to warm up. In the National last year, as the tapes went up and I give him a squeeze away at the start, he just landed in a very prominent position and I was happy to let him go as far as the first before I reigned him back a bit. I was up out of the way and to my delight, on the day and through the race, I was sitting handier, which meant I could have a better view of things and didn't need as much luck in running by being up out of the way of the trouble.

So, this year again hopefully he'll jump sharp and be able to sit in the first ten in an ideal world, but it's like any race, you have to ride as it comes. If he is further back, so be it. I know he will stay on from the back as well, that'll be the plan anyway.

We can see all the action in detail but we can never properly hear it. How much jockey chat or like shouting is there? What's the noise that stays with you after the race?

Yeah, there's always a bit of chat or someone looking for a shout just getting a bit of room, but in big handicaps like that, whether it's the likes of Cheltenham or it's the Scottish National or any of them big handicaps, your shouts can fall on deaf ears. People try. The lads are racing against each other every day of the week, and no one's deliberately going to come across or do anything wrong, but someone might give you a shout if there's a loose horse running up from behind. So, you'll always get a shout here or there but that's basically it.

Last year the going was described as good-to-soft. This year, soft ground looks on the cards. Do you think that's a negative for Corach Rambler? If so, why do you think that?

In an ideal world I suppose I would just have it the way it was last year because that's what he won on over the distance. But he has form on extremely heavy ground. I remember winning a novice hurdler on him at Carlisle, and it was extremely heavy. He ran a good race in the Bet365 at Haydock.

I would have thought it was extremely heavy, and I'd be surprised if it was as soft as that day, but it could be at the same time. In the Gold Cup, I'd say it could be softer than the Gold Cup again but was not nice ground. It was very heavy ground but I like to think his form is good enough on the bad ground. Although I think it'd be a nicer race to ride if it was slightly better conditions, I think everyone would enjoy it a bit more if it wasn't extremely heavy, but I'm not that concerned about it. I think he's an older horse and he has form in the bad ground, and hopefully, he’s able to cope with it as well as, if not better than, the rest of them.

Some horses shine the first time they encounter the big fences, but for whatever reason, don't necessarily shine on the second occasion. Do you have any reservations for Corach Rambler on that front?

Yeah, it can happen, but he hasn't shown any signs of that

having an effect on his jump this year, and it's not true for all horses. One For Arthur ran very well in the Becher chase to finish fifth on his first time over the big fences. He didn't actually jump that well, he made a few mistakes over the first few and then by the time he ran in the Grand National, he jumped even better. I'm hoping that that's not going to be a problem for Corach Rambler and that he'll jump with confidence.

How do you rate your chances of winning the Grand National this year?

It's very exciting to be going into it with a horse that's 5/1 favourite. I think he's very deserving of the price and he's had great preparation. Although he hasn't won a race this year, he's been aiming very high. His last two runs were in grade one races, and his preparation has gone really well. Just watching him riding out in the mornings and stuff, I rode him in a few bits of work myself, and he feels great. I couldn't expect his preparation to go any better, which is a rare thing to say but to this point, he hasn't had a single hold-up. That's a big plus I think for any horse.

How much is your performance in the Gold Cup raised hopes ahead of the race?

I wouldn't say it's raised my hopes. It just reassures that he's at his best and he's run to his best. That he hasn't shown any sign of regression in his ability or enthusiasm for racing. Obviously, a Grand National can leave its mark on a lot of horses. On the other hand, Tiger Roll has done it twice in recent years and I think the Gold Cup this year gives you confidence to think that he's at his best and still enjoying the racing.

How worried were you about potentially missing the Grand National due to a ban?

I got a suspension at Newcastle on a Monday evening in the last race in a handicap hurdle. I got word through that they were concerned about the excessive force I was using, but I was confident that I hadn't been overly forceful on him. I would just say I was strong rather than forceful. That turned out to be the case, but there was a two-day period where I was extremely worried. It's like anything, you don't want any dark clouds hanging over you going to a race like this. It's a massive opportunity for me and Corach to take, and it was just a massive worry for two days or so. But luckily, I've got the ban overturned and, its all systems go.

In the past, you've had a history of last-minute scares before previous Grand National successes. So, do you think this one could be a bit of a good omen for you?

This time around it hasn't been an injury. I had two horrible scares before the last two winners, with slight injuries. I was luckily able to overcome them. You can get your head down and power through a bit of an injury, but with a ban if you're told you're banned for the day, there wouldn't be much you could do- only sit it out. So it is a good omen and it might be something we'll look back on and laugh about afterwards. But I'm just glad that it's out of the way for now anyway.

What do you think the secret behind your success is at Aintree with Lucinda Russell?

I think Lucinda does a great job in buying the right type of horse for chasing in general, and then staying chases is where she comes into her own when it comes to the training of them. She does great conditioning work with them and you know they're going to be super fit. It's a case of they're well-bought and well-trained, and I think that's why I've had so much luck and success with them.

Ahead of the Grand National, only Red Rum and Tiger Roll have ever won the race more than once. What do you think sets those horses apart from the rest? And do you think Corach Rambler shares any of those attributes?

It's a difficult question really to answer. To compare him to Red Rum or Tiger Roll, two outstanding racehorses, is difficult. All I can say is he's a very honest horse. I think that’s the reason he could have the longevity to do it again - although he's very honest, he's clever in the sense he does just enough to win as well. So hopefully he hasn't left the best part of him at Aintree last year and that he saved a small bit for this year.

When you see him up there running, he flicks his ears. I know we're comparing him to the other two. It's hard for me to compare to other horses, but I just hope that he could bounce back and emulate Tiger Roll, it would be just brilliant.

It’s said that the Grand National is a bit of a lottery. As someone who's won it twice, do you think there's some truth in that, or do you think it's total nonsense to call it a lottery?

I always watch replays of old footage of the Grand National to see what you might pick up or learn about it. When you look back at some of the footage from back in the day, you could say that there's a lot more luck involved. The further you go back, the more luck was involved really because of the size and the stiffness of the fences. Hopefully, with the regulations and the way it's become more horse-friendly, it is more of a classier race and you need more than just a good jumper to win it.

You need a horse that has a bit of class. I'm well aware it's a very difficult race to win and you need a lot of luck to win it. Hopefully, it's a wee bit more predictable than it once was.

Rachel Blackmore won the Grand National a few years ago. She was the first woman to ever do so, obviously. Have you noticed a change in participation in the sport since Rachel's win?

There's a good few lady riders these days. They are very capable. Lady riders have definitely come forward and the likes of Rachel Blackmore and Hollie Doyle have kind of brought it to a different level. Hollie Doyle has obviously been on the flat but I think Rachel Blackmore has upped the standard for lady riders and I'm sure it's given a lot of young girls a dream that it can be done and it is possible for them to compete at the top level.

Which horses do you think are looking strong in their respective races throughout the weekend at Aintree- not just the Grand National?

Yeah, Lucinda Russell has a great team going to Aintree this year. I'm not exactly sure what races they're all going to run in, but hopefully, there’s a few going down. Ahoy Senor has been entered for the Bowl and he's in for a handicapped chase as well on the Saturday.

Apple Away is in a handicap hurdle and a conditions hurdle, and she's got a couple of novices entered. Esprit du Potier could have a chance. He loves soft ground, if it turns up soft.

Myretown has entered. We also have one in a handicapped chase on Thursday called Salamanca Bay, who will be 10 stone, who won here last time very impressively and seems to be coming the right way.

There's another horse that's in the novice chase, in the race after the Grand National, called Whatdeawant and, it'll be his first one for Lucinda. He came out of Willie Mullins, but he does everything right. There's plenty to look forward to, even apart from the Grand National for me.

Jockey Stefano Cerci sadly passed away recently after a horror fall in Canberra Australia. How much of an impact did that have on the sport as a whole do you think?

It's devastating when something like that happens for the whole racing industry, really. Your thoughts and my thoughts and everyone's thoughts, I'm sure, is just with his family and close friends. It's just very, very sad for a tragedy like that to happen. But, on the other side of things, you try to just move on and move forward and hopefully from my point of view, not dwell on it too much. Because you know it's a very dangerous sport, but it's a brilliant sport. It's just a real tragedy, and just very sad when something like that happens.

Is there much difference, do you think, in the safety precautions you get at different courses, like comparing the UK to internationally, for instance?

Well, it's hard for me to comment on that because I've ridden in Ireland and England and I rode in America once. But I'm sure it's like anything, the medical staff all over the world are coming forward all the time and all I could say is the likes of England and Ireland definitely have great medical staff. I've always been very well taken care of any time I've ever had a slight injury. I think it's such a dangerous sport, but I think everyone is doing their very best to keep it as safe as possible.

You yourself suffered a pretty nasty fall. As someone who's taken part in over a hundred races, does the sport cause you any fear or do you just completely put that to one side?

I think you have to respect it and understand there's no point going out thinking that nothing is ever going to happen. But you can prepare yourself as best as possible. I think it's a calculated risk and you try to keep it as minimal as possible. I like to think I'm fairly confident and positive. I've never had too many really serious injuries so I've always been able to get back race riding pretty quickly. It's not something I try to dwell on too much and just instead try to stay positive and keep looking forward.

Do you think horse racing could become a bit more global by relaxing rules on where the jockeys can race? A bit like the Champions League in European football, for instance?

I don't think there are many restrictions. I think Jockeys do fly over and back to different countries. I rode in America a few years ago and there was no real, problem getting over or back. You could go over or back to Ireland or France. The lads were always travelling around. I don't think there are any real restrictions on that, to be honest.

Do you think traditional prestigious racers like the Grand National and the Kentucky Derby are at risk of becoming a bit less desirable for jockeys when you've got races like the Saudi Cup with bigger passes for instance?

Obviously I'm a jump jockey and I'd be too heavy to ride in a flat but, no, I think races are still worth a lot of money and I'm sure everyone's trying to win them as much as any other big race.

Lucinda Russell was the trainer on both occasions where you won the national. How important do you think that relationship between the jockey and their trainer is?

I think for me, it's nice. I like to think I have a good relationship with Lucinda and I think she has a good relationship with me. We trust each other, I trust that she sees the horses fit and she trusts me to be capable enough to ride them on the day. I think it has to be important that everyone's on the same page thinking the same way and working together, rather than against each other when you're on the same team. It's not the be all and end all, people get spare rides in the weight room and that can work out just as well. For me, I know Lucinda well at this stage and I always feel confident riding for her.

And what are the most important qualities that you look for in a winning horse?

I suppose when you're talking about jump horses anyway, you obviously can get a horse off the flat that'll go jumping and he can get on fine, but I like to see a bit of size and scope in the jumpers. I think it always helps if you have a bit of size and scope, it can just make life easier for the horse. They don't need to be massive, but just a nice-sized horse is always a help.

And can you always tell when a horse is ready? Or do they sometimes surprise you on race day?

Sometimes horses can outrun their odds but hopefully you're not too surprised. Hopefully, you have the horse prepared to go into the race. When you go there, you're going there with a chance. What we all want is to have the horse fit and well and go there with a chance.

Are there any horses you've ridden throughout your career that you can't believe you never won anything with?

No, if a horse hasn't won a race, or doesn't get round to winning a race in its whole career, it's definitely lacking a bit of ability or will to win. There are obviously young horses that might show a bit at home or might show a bit of promise in a bumper and don't go on to achieve much. It is possible but normally if they show a bit at home in their work or to show a wee bit on the track it'll always come true in the end. If a horse never gets around to winning a race, it's probably because he's just lacking something.

And how do you prepare for the big race? What strategies do you use to ensure you get the best performance out of the horses you ride?

I suppose you watch the replays and go over the form on your phone as much as possible before the race. Get an idea of how the tactics of the race might work out and obviously, you keep yourself fit and well as well as you can. I always walk the track every day I go racing. I walk around the track beforehand just to have a look at the ground and see where the best ground is. And it's just a wee regime, especially if you don't know the horse you're riding, you'd look up his replays, watch his form and get an idea of how it likes to be ridden. And then get an idea of how much pace might be in the race. And that's one part of it.

Then as I say, I always like to walk the track just to get an idea of where the best ground might be and, and how the track's laid out. Because there are always little changes. The hurdles might be in a different place or, the fences might have been pushed in or out a little bit. I just think you should get there and get prepared and have all the information you can and you've done everything you can. So, what happens will happen then and that's the end of that.

Are there any jockeys or even horses who always give you a hard time whenever you come up against them?

I think there's a lot of good jockeys in the weight room and they're all as hungry as each other, and with Jackbury House and Oaksie House and the fitness that's behind the jockeys, jockeys get the high standard straight away. They're not stumbling around. They've all got a lot in place to make sure that the younger riders are educated. I don't really worry about any jockey in any race or any one particular horse either, for that matter. You can only ride your own horse and make sure you've done the best you can to prepare for today's race.

And aside from winning the Grand National, what other career highlights are you particularly proud of?

Well, obviously, Corach Rambler winning at Cheltenham twice, especially on the first day was a great buzz. I've had some great days. Ahoy Senor winning at the Cotswold Chase was a good day. So they’re a couple of highlights.

Is there a particular race or moment in your career that you feel was a turning point that almost made you feel like you belong among the best?

Yeah, I could almost have felt it when One for Arthur won the Warwick Classic. I felt like I'd achieved something that day, and then next time out he won the Grand National. I think in the period of that winter, getting to ride on One for Arthur just propelled me into someone who was really recognized.

And how did you find yourself in horse racing? Like, are there any lessons that younger jockeys can take from your experience?

I grew up around horses, with some lovely ponies at home, but it wasn't really a race. I never did grow up in a racing yard or anything like that. I did some show jumping and progressed on through the pony racing in Ireland and point to pointing. That's how I got into it. It wasn't too fancy or anything like that. You don't need to have a big background in racing, I don't think to get into it, and most yards have an open door. They're always happy if you can sit on a horse, they'll let you come in and ride out. That's it really. It's like any walk of life or any sport. I think the more you put into it, the more you get back out of it.

What do you think have been some key lessons you've learned throughout your career that have made you a better jockey?

You're always learning. It's hard for me to pick out one individual lesson. I think horse racing, you need to be doing it every day. Either riding out in the yard or going racing as much as possible.

Hopefully over time you pick things up as you go along. You can't really have any standard hard lesson, you're just always picking things up as you go along.

How long do you see yourself racing for? Do you see yourself in the saddle until your forties?

Yeah, as we were saying earlier, the way the Jackbury House and the rehab centres for jockeys are these days and the amount of care that's accessible to us now, hopefully jockeys, in general, are riding a lot longer. I'd never put an exact time on it, it's not something I think about too much, but hopefully, I would ride until I was close to 40 and that would all depend on how things are. You can never predict these things. I think if I stay relatively injury-free and keep enjoying it, I'd love to think I have a good few years left in me anyway.

Do you have any thoughts on what you'd like to do after horse racing, or are you very much just in the moment right now?

Yeah, sometimes you'd have a wee think about it. There's nothing I've ever said I'd definitely do or won't do. I'll be 32 this year in May and hopefully, I will ride till I am 40. I've another eight years out of which it's a good while away really. And it's something I'll worry about more probably later on.

If you do get the other eight years out of it, how would you think you want to be remembered in the world of horse racing?

Hopefully I'll be recognized as someone who's good at what he does. I like to think I'm always professional in the way I conduct myself. That's it really.

A few more national titles would be nice as well, wouldn't it?

Exactly. You always just set out with a dream and hopefully, the dream can keep going for another while. It'd be nice to even look back on my own career, because in the moment I go to race and I prepare for the race, I don't even look back on my own career with much thought really, I just keep looking forward.

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Last Updated: 30 May 2024
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