Minella Times out to turn National dreams into reality again

Minella Times will bid to make Henry de Bromhead’s impossible dream come true a second time as he sets out this season to try to retain his Randox Grand National title.

De Bromhead was responsible for a remarkable one-two at Aintree in April, with 100-1 stablemate Balko Des Flos chasing home the Rachael Blackmore-ridden winner.

Blackmore’s success was a major sporting milestone, in the world-famous race no female jockey had ever won before – and, of course, it was an achievement which followed her and County Waterford trainer de Bromhead’s phenomenally successful Cheltenham Festival.

Minella Times will soon begin to tread a path back to Liverpool next spring, even as his jockey is still getting her head properly round this year’s victory.

“It’s something that everyone would dream about,” said Blackmore.

“It is THE race, I suppose, and it’s still hard to believe you’ve actually won it – it’s incredible.

“It’s definitely a replay I love watching! It’s still hard to comprehend it all.

“I know that might be silly to say … but it was such an incredible day.

“It hit me just when we crossed the line. It was an incredible feeling and one that I’ll never forget.”

Minella Times produced a flawless round of jumping to claim the famous marathon by six and a half lengths, and Blackmore realised from a very early stage he was adapting perfectly to the unique National fences.

“He was phenomenal,” she said.

“I knew after jumping two or three fences on him that he was really going to take to them.

“When we landed over the last I still felt like he was galloping for me – he was picking up for me.

“I suppose one side of my head was saying ‘you’re going to win the Grand National, we’re going to win’ and the other side was saying ‘nah, something’s going to pass you in a couple of seconds’ so the feeling when you cross the line and you know that you’re in front is unbelievable.”

Minella Times’ 2021-22 campaign will revolve around repeat bid for the race, and Blackmore believes he has the credentials to emulate all-time greats Red Rum and Tiger Roll by successfully defending his title.

“I can’t see why not!” she said.

“He loved it around there, which is a big help. I’m sure Henry and JP (McManus, owner) will discuss his plans for the season, but he’s a very special horse to me.

“He’s such a genuine horse. He’s fantastic to jump – he’s been trained to perfection.”

Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore celebrate Minella Times' Aintree victory
Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore celebrate Minella Times’ Aintree victory (David Davies/PA)

De Bromhead is less bullish at this early stage, and finds it hard to envision how last season’s superb campaign could ever be topped.

The Irishman, who also trained the first two home in last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, said: “You dream of winning it once – I wouldn’t dare to dream of winning it twice.

“I’m not sure (how we follow last year) – I suppose try not to change too much. Keep it the same as last year – and then expect the worst, and hope for the best!

“It was all pretty surreal. Still now when I see the photos I suddenly go ‘my God, we won the National and the Gold Cup!’.

“It was just incredible, the whole thing, and we’re probably still waiting to wake up.”

Minella Times had never previously run over the National course, and De Bromhead was unsure as to whether his jumping style would suit the track.

He said: “I suppose you never really know – some people would say he nearly jumps too well, in the sense that he makes such a shape over them.

“You don’t really know until you go and do it. We made some makeshift fences here, and the first day we schooled him he was having a right look at them.”

Any concerns were quickly dispelled, with Blackmore and her partner expertly navigating their way around.

“It was brilliant, and he was giving them so much height, nearly jumping them too well,” added De Bromhead, whose third National contender Chris’s Dream was still in contention too when he unseated four fences from home.

Reflecting again on Minella Times’ performance, he said: “It was an exhibition – he jumped brilliantly the whole way, (and) Rachael was brilliant on him.

“I suppose the first round is survival, and they’re all still standing. To have three in it and three going out on the second circuit was amazing.

“Then you jump the Canal Turn, and they’re all still there – it’s starting to go well and it’s unreal.  Then unfortunately we lost Chris’s Dream, and we see Balko tanking away, but Rachael is cantering and winging fences. It’s nearly disbelief to me.

“I’m looking at (eventual third) Any Second Now and thinking ‘I hope he’s not going to come back and beat both of mine’. You’ve watched it every year for so long, and you can see how races can be lost.

“Rachael had kept plenty. She was getting in the right place – they say you need a lot of luck in the National, and I think we got that. Also, just the way Rachael was manoeuvring around there was incredible.”

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