The 14/1 shot jumped like a stag for his young jockey on the second circuit and gave Fox his first winner since he was injured following a fall from Ryalex (also trained by Russell) in a novice chase at Carlisle on March 9.
Fox broke his left wrist and his right collarbone in the fall and this was only his sixth ride since returning from injury at Carlisle on Wednesday (April 5).
The Sligo-born jockey couldn’t believe he’d just won the National shortly after the race.
“It’s unbelievable!” exclaimed Fox.
“He’s won it so easily. The only concern I had was that he’d be too slow and get too far back – it’s tricky to win a National if that happens as you need more things to go your way but he jumped so well.
“After we gone one circuit, I was thinking ‘I can’t be going as well as I am’ as we were so near the leaders. He jumped all the way down the back – he was going so well that I thought I might take him a bit wider as he was making two or three lengths with every jump.
“As we crossed Valentine’s, I was closing and closing and thought I might be there too soon. For a brief moment, I took a small pull on him. He’s the gamest horse I’ve ever ridden and he galloped all the way to the line.
“I’d just like to thank Jack Berry House for getting me back after the injury a few weeks ago. I fractured my wrist and dislocated my shoulder. I kept the wrist out of plaster and I asked the doctor if I’d be able to ride in the National. He smiled at me and said ‘well at least it’s a race that you’re unlikely to fall off in!’ He did say that if I kept it out of plaster and worked hard, then I should have some sort of chance of being fit.
“If it wasn’t for Jack Berry House though, I never would have got back in time so I’d like to thank them, the owners and Lucinda (Russell – winning trainer) and Scu (Peter Scudamore, Russell’s partner and former champion jockey) for putting me on the horse. Some might have thought I wasn’t fit enough but they kept the faith. Big thanks to everyone. It’s an amazing feeling – it’s better than I thought it would ever have been.
“I was so determined to get back. Luckily, I’ve had a great partnership with the horse all year and he’s obviously just an improving horse. I’m very lucky to have got the ride on him in the first place – I can’t believe it.
“I couldn’t ask to work for nicer people. Lucinda is one of the best trainers around – especially when it comes to training staying chasers. She’s primed him for this race and thought he’d improved 10lb from his last run – which I didn’t think was possible but who am I to say any different?
“Scu is a great help as well – the jockey coaching he gives me is amazing.
“It’s a dream come true. Not everyone can be champion jockey as it’s a very tricky thing to be but this race just gives a standard jockey like me a chance to shine on the big stage.
“I’m not quite sure just what I’ve achieved yet but all I can say is that it’s an amazing feeling. I was so lucky on the way round – everything didn’t go smoothly. He went through gaps, jumped around horses and got bumped and bashed but just kept going. I can’t really describe the feeling.
“I thought when I jumped the water jump that I might have a chance and then I had a moment to settle myself on the way down to the second circuit. I was just thinking ‘here we go again’ – he just jumped so well I probably finished up in front sooner than I really wanted to.
“I hurt my wrist in a heavy fall on March, 9 at Carlisle in a novice chase which was just four weeks ago. The recovery all comes down to Jack Berry House and the fitness instructor, physio and all the staff were so helpful. I can’t thank them enough.
“I hadn’t sat on a horse for three weeks so for Lucinda and Scu to put me on and keep the faith in me. It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had – there’s not too many chances to ride a horse like that. It’s an unbelievable feeling – I can’t describe it.
“Lucinda’s horses couldn’t have been in better form over the past couple of weeks so, every time she was having a winner, I kept thinking ‘I should have been on that!’ but then I was thinking ‘how am I going to feel if I don’t get back for the National?’ so I was very determined but I had great support and was in the hands of the right feeling.
“I couldn’t believe I was coming to win the National in the final strides. You see the footage of horses like Many Clouds and you never think it’s going to happen to you. It’s just better than I thought it could be.
“Lucinda did say it was the best she’d ever had him and I’ve never felt him ride so well.
“I wanted to be a bit nearer the front earlier on in the race but, after we’d gone a circuit, he started taking me back into the race again. He just started to jump and travel and then and, the more horses were making mistakes, the better he was jumping.
“He took me there so easily and, three out, I couldn’t believe how well I was going. I was thinking that I was going too good to be true at the Melling Road but he’s a good horse. He was so impressive at Warwick the last time and Lucinda and Scu thought this was the race to go for. They’ve done very well not to run him for 11 weeks and have him fit enough for this race.
“My uncle Mark Michael McNiff trains in Sligo and taught me everything I know about racing. He’s taught me all I know since a very early age – he got me into racing and got me going. He’s very helpful to speak to and always rings me after racing. He’s very good for advice and very blunt – he’s quite difficult to please!
“It’s amazing though – there’s loads of good lads that never get the opportunity to ride a big winner so I do appreciate exactly what this means.”