Derek Fox has built a reputation for inspirational and daring hold-up rides, but there is something pretty inspiring about the personal journey of this Grand National winner.
The County Sligo-born jockey will ride Lucinda Russell’s 6-1 favourite Corach Rambler in the £1million race at Aintree on Saturday, provided he passes a fitness test after injuring his shoulder in a fall last week.
Fox won the race on Russell’s One For Arthur in 2017. It will be some feat to repeat but is not beyond a jockey who, having left school at 14 struggling to read and write after he was diagnosed with dyslexia, called on the sort of bloody-minded determination that marks out special athletes by teaching himself to read.
He admits he used to spend too much time watching television or down the pub, but would now rather devour a good book.
Fox, who will be 31 next month, said: ‘I was never very good at school and I never had a massive interest. I left school maybe a year or two before I should have — I was 14. I don’t know how but I seemed to get away with it.
Derek Fox will ride Lucinda Russell’s 6-1 favourite Corach Rambler in the Grand National
Fox will be seeking a second Grand National win after riding One For Arthur to victory in 2017
‘When I was young one of the teachers said I was dyslexic. From there I always got extra help with reading but struggled and there was a lack of want from me.
‘I wasn’t interested in what I was reading but since I got older, I have wanted to take in information. The stuff I am reading means more to me now. I was in my early 20s when I started getting better.
‘I started reading a couple of simple books and went from there. My reading has really improved. I mainly read autobiographies, you can learn more about life from them. I thought Muhammed Ali’s autobiography was exceptionally good. You could really relate to it.
‘Maybe it is just me but you can lose your concentration with a book. That one made me excited to read it as quickly as I could because there was always something happening.’
Fox added: ‘I can’t quite believe it but I have got quite good at it. I enjoy reading the books now and watching less TV.
‘Maybe it is just that I am getting older but I find I don’t go out as much. I still have a drink sometimes but I can go months without one and as I have got older I think the biggest waste of time is going to the pub.’
Fox admits his general outlook is very different from that of the youngster who arrived at Russell’s Scottish stable a decade ago.
The jockey said: ‘When you start out it is all exciting. You are living day to day and you don’t put an awful lot of thought into it. As you move forward as a professional you have to keep working on yourself and keep getting better otherwise you fall behind.
The Grand National winner has revealed his passion for reading despite being dyslexic
‘If you think you have made it or get ahead of yourself in horse-racing, it soon catches up with you. You have to keep building on yourself.’
Not many outside the sport had heard of Fox when he won the 2017 Grand National on the Russell-trained One For Arthur but he never had any doubts he would be a jockey from the times when he used to ride a Welsh pony called Reggie.
There were days when he and a few friends used to catch the school bus only to jump off a stop later to spend a day riding bareback around the field.
‘My mother almost always caught us out but sometimes we got away with it clean,’ Fox says with a smile. ‘I used to play a little bit of football and other sports in school hours but outside school I just rode the ponies. That’s all I ever wanted to do.
‘I never made a decision to ride racehorses it was just something I assumed I was going to do.’
Fox, whose National win came a month after he had broken his left wrist, cut his teeth riding for the small stables of Mark McNiff and Noel Kelly but realised he needed to move to a bigger stable to progress and made the decision to switch to the operation Russell runs with partner Peter Scudamore and where his cousin Stephen had previously worked.
It has proved to be the best decision he has ever made.
He has forged a partnership with Grade One winning chaser Ahoy Senor and been successful at the last two Cheltenham Festivals with Corach Rambler, audaciously pouncing from off the pace both times, with the latest run making Saturday’s mount look like the best handicapped horse in the race.
Fox will head into the Grand National having guided Corach Rambler to victory at Cheltenham
When Fox triumphed on One For Arthur, it was with another trademark hold-up ride when most of the field were still in front of him jumping Becher’s Brook on the second circuit.
Fox possesses nerves of steel and Russell has said one of his great strengths is getting into the minds of his mounts, understanding their needs, but he plays it all down.
‘Looking from the outside people can call it cool but to me it is just what the horses need,’ Fox said. ‘It’s the way Corach Rambler and One For Arthur like to be ridden.
‘Lucky for me Scu knows the horses and racing so well. He knows that is the way the horses needs to be ridden and so we are on the same page.’
In his races before One For Arthur’s win, Fox had seen how the gelding thrived on passing beaten horses at the end of the race and his big-race tactics worked out perfectly.
Fox will now carry into the biggest race of the season what he has learned about Corach Rambler including his tendency to idle and look at the crowd when he hits front.
He did again when he won the Ultima Chase last month at Cheltenham.
And he said: ‘The only thing you could compare between Arthur and Corach is a similar running style. One For Arthur was not a fast starter and Corach takes a bit of time to get warmed up.
‘Corach tends to idle when he hits the front so I try to leave it as late as possible.’
So the battle plan is clear for Corach Rambler and there is no-one better than Fox to try to implement it.
5-2 – Paddy Power’s price for a first British-trained winner since 2017, while Corach Rambler is 6-1 with the bookmaker to win the Grand National.
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Sports Event Casino Handicap Description
|PK||0||It means not giving in to each other, and winning 1 point wins all.|
|0-50||0/0.5||Indicates that when the handicap team is tied with the transferee team, the team betting on the handicap loses 50%.|
|0 loss||0.5||Indicates that when the handicap team is tied with the transferee team, the team betting on the handicap loses.|
|1+50||0.5/1||When the handicap team wins the handicap team by 1 point, the team betting on the handicap wins 50% and wins all 2 points.|
|1 level||1||Indicates that when the handicap team wins the handicap team by 1 point, the two teams will tie and win by 2 points.|
|1-50||1/1.5||When the handicap team wins the handicap team by 1 point, the team betting on the handicap loses 50% and wins all 2 points.|
|1 loss||1.5||When the handicap team wins the handicap team by 1 point, the team betting on the handicap loses all and wins by 2 points.|
|2+50||1.5/2||When the handicap team wins the handicap team by 2 points, the team betting on the handicap wins 50% and wins all 3 points.|
|2 flat||2||Indicates that when the handicap team wins the handicap team by 2 points, the two teams will tie and win all 3 points.|
|2 losses||2/2.5||When the handicap team wins the handicap team by 2 points, the team betting on the handicap loses 50% and wins all 3 points.|
|3+50||2.5||When the handicap team wins the handicap team by 2 points, the team betting on the handicap loses all and wins all 3 points.|
|3 losses||2.5/3||When the handicap team wins the handicap team by 3 points, the team betting on the handicap wins 50%, and all 4 points win.|
|3 levels||3||Indicates that when the handicap team wins the handicap team by 3 points, the two teams will tie and win all 4 points.|
|3-50||3/3.5||When the handicap team wins the handicap team by 3 points, the team betting on the handicap loses 50% and wins all 4 points.|
|3 losses||3.5||When the handicap team wins the handicap team by 3 points, the team betting on the handicap loses all and wins all 4 points.|
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