Henry de Bromhead believes Minella Times is “back on song” ahead of his bid for a famous repeat in the Randox Grand National at Aintree on Saturday week.
The J.P. McManus-owned nine-year-old claimed a historic success 12 months ago as Rachael Blackmore became the first woman to ride the winner of the world’s most famous steeplechase.
It capped a memorable few weeks for De Bromhead after completing the an unprecedented Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup treble at Cheltenham a few weeks earlier.
Having also saddled the runner-up at Aintree, Balko Des Flos, he unsurprisingly recalls the day fondly.
“We definitely did enjoy it. It was some achievement by Rachael and to be involved in it all was brilliant,” said the Waterford trainer.
“To see our three runners going out on the second circuit was pretty incredible. We lost Chris’s Dream (unseated four out), but to see Balko and Minella Times both there in the first four or five with three to jump was unreal.
“I thought Burrows Saint and Patrick Mullins were going better than any of ours at the time, but jumping the last it was some buzz.
“Ted Walsh’s horse, Any Second Now, was staying on again, but halfway up the run-in I started to believe we could win it.”
Twelve months on Minella Times will return to Merseyside with something to prove, having failed to complete in two subsequent outings.
The Oscar gelding fell on his seasonal reappearance in the John Durkan and was pulled up when last seen contesting a handicap chase at the Dublin Racing Festival.
De Bromhead added: “He fell in the Durkan, which was disappointing, and he came back a little bit stiff and sore. We got him right and thought we had him spot on for Leopardstown and again he was a bit disappointing.
“But we found a couple of little issues, we’ve treated him for those and he seems really good now. He worked nicely the other day and Rachael was happy with him.
“We’re hoping that we’ve got him back on song.”
Minella Times is one of four likely runners for De Bromhead in this year’s National.
Chris’s Dream is back for a second attempt, while Court Maid is an intriguing contender on what will be her first start for the yard.
The nine-year-old, formerly trained by Tom Mullins, was last seen chasing home subsequent Cheltenham Festival heroine Elimay in a Listed mares’ chase at Naas in January.
“Chris’s Dream looked to be going well and seemed to be enjoying himself when he unseated last year,” said De Bromhead.
“We bought Court Maid the other day as we thought she had a really nice profile for the race. We were delighted to get her – she could run really well, hopefully.
“She’s a high-class mare who has won over three and a half miles – and to be able to drop back to two miles at Naas and run as well as she did, we just felt she made a lot of sense.”
Completing the quartet is Poker Party, who was pulled up in the Glenfarclas Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, but De Bromhead considers him a lively outsider.
He said: “Poker Party won a Kerry National a few years ago and got hurt, but he’s back now.
“He just struggled in the very heavy ground at Cheltenham, but Rachael said he really took to the cross-country and really enjoyed it.”
With Spyglass Hill an “unlikely” runner, De Bromhead is set to rely on Notebook in the other race run over the Grand National fences for professionals next week – Friday’s Randox Topham Chase.
He will be part of a small but select team of horses De Bromhead is sending across the Irish Sea for the Grand National Festival.
He said: “Notebook seems in good form. Obviously he’s rated fairly high, but he jumps great and we’re hoping for a good run in the Topham.
“Quilixios will possibly run in the Aintree Hurdle, we’ve a few entered in the Red Rum Handicap Chase and Captain Guinness will probably go for the Melling Chase.
“Gin On Lime could go for either the two-and-a-half-mile or the three-mile novice chase and I think that’s the bulk of our runners.”