A BREATHLESS Derek Fox does not even wait for the obligatory ‘how are you?’ when he answers his mobile phone.
“I’ve passed the doctor this morning, that’s good,” he tells The Yorkshire Post with discernible excitement.
He can’t wait to tell the world – and with good reason.
Cursing his luck, Fox’s immediate thoughts was that he would miss his first ride in the Randox Health Grand National after suffering heavy injuries in a fall at Carlisle as recently as March 9.
When his worst fears were confirmed – a dislocated right collarbone joint and fractured left wrist – his heart immediately sank. He knew it was odds against him recovering sufficiently to ride One For Arthur, winner of Warwick’s Classic Chase in early January, in the £1m National this Saturday.
That was before medical and fitness staff at Jack Berry House, the Injured Jockeys Fund (IJF) rehab centre in Malton, began their own race against time with the 24-year-old who hails from County Sligo.
Their patient could not have been more willing. “It’s such a great relief to have passed the doctor,” says Fox during the drive from Malton back to Scotland so he can resume riding out at the stables of One For Arthur’s trainer Lucinda Russell and her partner Peter Scudamore, the former champion jockey.
“I was fairly confident I would pass – but you can’t be sure. If it wasn’t for Jack Berry House, I wouldn’t be back.”
With both arms effectively immobile, Fox began his fitness regime within three days of his fall at Carlisle where, ironically, he’s due to resume race riding tomorrow.
“I was in the gym straight away keeping my lower body fit with special exercises,” says Fox who admits that the lack of movement in his arms was a growing concern as the days quickly passed. “In the first week, there was little movement. I was always determined to get back, but I was always doubtful. After two weeks, there was a massive improvement.”
As well as subjecting his fragile frame to special machines designed to accelerate the bone healing process, Fox had regular sessions in the state-of-the-art hydrotherapy pool where carefully controlled jets of water enabled him to build up the strength in his arms without aggravating the respective injuries.
He’s not alone – Fox’s team are the self-same individuals who helped Middleham jockey Henry Brooke to make a miraculous recovery last year from life-threatening injuries, including a punctured lung and multiple fractured ribs, after a fall at Hexham left him in a coma. They specialise in repairing broken jockeys.
Within two months, Brooke was finishing an agonising second on Highland Lodge in Aintree’s Becher Chase over the National fences and hopes to go one better when he partners Cumbrian trainer Jimmy Moffatt’s stable star in opposition to Fox.
Named after Leeds-born IJF founding father Jack Berry, the one certainty in the National – the world’s most unpredictable horse race where the unexpected is to be expected – is that the winning jockey will, at some stage, have had reason to be thankful to the Injured Jockeys Fund or its equivalent in Ireland.
Yet, as Fox said, the National is the ultimate test of a horseman. “If ever there was sometiming to give you inspiration, it’s coming back to ride in the National,” he says.
“Hopefully I will appreciate it even more because I thought I would not make it.”
He is quick to praise the support from connections – the aforementioned Russell telephoned each day while Scudamore visited Ryedale to assess Fox’s fitness for himself. Though he never won the National, he knows the riding attributes required for this thirty-fence marathon over four and a quarter stamina sapping miles.
Bidding to become the first Scottish-trained winner since Rubstic in 1979, the horse could not have been more impressive when finishing fifth to Vieux Lion Rouge, ridden by Scudamore’s son Tom, and the aforementioned Highland Lodge in the Becher Chase – a key National trial.
The horse is owned by the delightfully named The Golf Widows in the form of Deborah Thomson and Belinda McClung.
“Debs and Belinda actually went to school together and then met up again later in life,” said Russell. “As their husbands both play a lot of golf they wanted something they could enjoy together, too, and thought this was a good way. Belinda is a steward and knows horses inside out, while Debs is from a farming background so a lot of the nitty gritty doesn’t need explaining to them.”
One For Arthur’s career always promised plenty, but only now is the potential being realised.
“In his younger days I remember saying to them all if they’d rather have a Gold Cup horse or a National one and it’s funny now but they all said National,” added Russell.
As for Fox, he intends to ride the ironically-named Imjoeking in Friday’s Topham Chase over Aintree’s National fences. He is not fazed by the challenge – or risks. “Peter, Lucinda and the owners have been very supportive – and my agent Bruce Jeffrey,” he added. “One For Arthur ticks most of the boxes for the National – he has a lot of natural ability. I think he has a very good chance. I will, hopefully, get there in one piece – but I couldn’t be fitter. Without Jack Berry House, I would have struggled.”