Minella Times wins the National under Rachael Blackmore
Minella Times wins the National under Rachael Blackmore

Minella Times working well ahead of Randox Great National defence

Henry de Bromhead is hopeful that 2021 Randox Grand National hero Minella Times is back to his best ahead of his bid to defend the crown at Aintree next week.

The JP McManus-owed gelding helped create history a year ago when he was successful under Rachael Blackmore, making her the first female jockey to win the Randox Grand National.

Minella Times will have to carry 20lbs more (11st 9lbs compared to 10st 3lbs in 2021) if he is to win the famous contest for the second year running, but de Bromhead feels he has got his charge back to his best in time for the Aintree showpiece on Saturday 9th April.

The County Waterford-based handler said: "It has been frustrating with Minella Times so far this season. Obviously, he fell in the John Durkan which was disappointing, and he came back a little bit stiff and sore. We then got him right and thought we had him spot on for Leopardstown and again he was a bit disappointing. But we found a little couple of issues and treated him for those, and he seems really good now.

"He worked nicely the other day and Rachael was happy with him so I’m hoping that we’ve got him back on song. He seems in good form, so fingers crossed. We think he loved it last year and we’re very hopeful that Aintree will reignite him again. Obviously, he has been disappointing, but he did love it there last year and we really think he’s really coming back to himself finally and we couldn’t be happier with him.

Minella Times on the gallops
Minella Times on the gallops

“You’re always trying to freshen them up and he did a bit of Cross Country and things like that as you’re always trying to sweeten them up and keep them happy and enjoying themselves and he seems to be very much coming to himself.”

When asked to reflect on that historic achievement 12 months ago, de Bromhead added: "We definitely could enjoy it (despite being held behind closed doors due to COVID-19 restrictions) and it was fantastic that it all went ahead under such difficult circumstances. Although it was different, it was it great that we got to win the Grand National.

"It was some achievement for Rachael and to be involved in it all was brilliant. Minella Times was brilliant on the day, and it was great to get it for the McManus family.

"We probably didn’t allow ourselves (to believe we were going to win it in-running) and to see the three horses just go out for the second circuit was pretty incredible.

Chris's Dream can go well at Aintree today
Chris's Dream can go well at Aintree

“Obviously Chris’s Dream unseated four out, but to see Balko Des Flos and Minella Times both there in the first four or five with three to jump was just unreal really. I thought Burrows Saint and Patrick Mullins were going better than any of ours at the time but Minella Times jumping the last in front was some buzz. I suppose Any Second Now was staying on then, but I’d say we were starting to get pretty excited and believing we were going to win it about halfway up the run-in.”

Like Minella Times, Chris’s Dream will return to Merseyside for another crack at the great race, having unseated at the fourth last fence one year ago. The 10 year old was travelling comfortably at the time and although he has to carry top weight this year, his trainer is optimistic he could run well once again.

De Bromhead continued “He unseated there last year when he looked to be going well and seemed to be enjoying himself, so we’ll see.”

The third de Bromhead horse guaranteed a run in this year’s race is Court Maid, who is a recent recruit from the Tom Mullins yard. And while the nine year old mare is untried over the iconic Aintree fences, de Bromhead feels she has the right sort of profile for the race.

He said: “We bought her the other day and thought she had a really nice profile for the race. We’re delighted to get her, and I think she could run really well hopefully.

“We just felt she made a lot of sense. She’s a high-class mare and she’s won over three and a half miles and then to be able to drop back over two miles in the Mares’ Chase at Naas (in February) and run as well as she did – we just felt she made a lot of sense and we’re delighted to get her.

“She arrived just before Cheltenham and we’re hoping if we can just maintain her form and if she takes to the fences she could run really well. She’s a lovely mare and has settled in really well and we couldn’t be happier with her. I think her profile looks good and she’s got a bit of pace and she seems to stay well, so she’s a lovely mare to have. Obviously she has to take to the fences and enjoy that aspect of it, but she’s been schooling well at home so we’re happy.”

The Timeform Jury Service

The de Bromhead trio could be joined by Poker Party, who would need three to come out at the time of writing in order to get a run.

The 10 year old shaped well for a long way over the Cross Country fences at the Cheltenham Festival earlier this month and his trainer is hopeful that he can build on that next Saturday should he sneak into the race.

He said: “He won a Kerry National a few years ago and he’s back now after an issue. He’s OK but he just struggled on the very heavy ground at Cheltenham but Rachael said he was really enjoying the Cross Country the other day – just that ground on the Wednesday he wouldn’t handle it.

“Rachael said he really took to that track and really enjoyed it and Balko Des Flos was similar last year, he unseated in the Cross Country at the cheese wedges I think but Rachael came in and said how much he enjoyed it – so it seems to be a great prep race for the National. The ground went against him that day but Rachael said he was going well to the point she decided to pull him up.”

When asked about jockey arrangements for the Grand National, de Bromhead said: “I’d say Rachael will be on Minella Times and we haven’t yet firmed up plans for any of the other three – we’re going to school a few this week and we’ll see.”

When asked to sum up the remainder of his team for Aintree, de Bromhead said: “Spyglass Hill is unlikely to go for the Topham Chase but Notebook is a likely runner. He seems in good form and although he’s rated pretty high, he jumps great and we’re hoping for a good run.

Quilixios will run in the two and a half mile hurdle and we’ve got a few entered in the Red Rum Handicap Chase, while Captain Guinness will probably go for the Melling Chase on the Friday.

Gin On Lime and the riderless My Drogo
Gin On Lime and the riderless My Drogo

Gin On Lime will go for either the two and a half mile (Manifesto Novices’ Chase) or the three-mile novices’ chase (Mildmay Novices’ Chase) which would be the bulk of our runners, though Somptueux might get an entry in a handicap chase as well.

Put The Kettle On is also going to Aintree as the syndicate have decided to sell her. She’s got such a value as a broodmare so she’s going to go to the Goffs Aintree Sales on the Thursday. She’s still well able to race away but we just think she’s at that stage in her career that it might be a better option for her in time.”

De Bromhead enjoyed another Cheltenham Festival to remember earlier this month, recording three victories which included both the Unibet Champion Hurdle and the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The trainer enjoyed a one-two with A Plus Tard and Minella Indo in the latter for the second year running and he revealed that A Plus Tard will not be heading to Aintree for the Betway Bowl – instead favouring a return to Haydock Park next November for the Grade One Betfair Chase.

He said “A Plus Tard seems great and he’s really well. We’re delighted with all of our horses since coming back from Cheltenham really apart from Bob Olinger. He’s a bit tight so we’re working on him, but all of the others have come back really well. The Thompsons would love to focus on the Gold Cup again for next year – that route worked for us last year, so we feel if it ain’t broke we won’t try and fix it.

“Minella Indo deserves a big one this season and will go to Punchestown, as will Honeysuckle. She was brilliant at Cheltenham and has come out of it brilliant so we’re looking forward to running her there.”

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