RANDOX Grand National winner Minella Times is set to prepare for a defence of his crown by lining up in graded races this season, Henry de Bromhead told the media during a stable visit on Thursday. The Waterford-based trainer hopes his superstar can emulate the feats of icons Red Rum and Tiger Roll and win the world’s greatest steeplechase two years in succession.

Looking forward to the campaign ahead, de Bromhead explained: “We’ll probably enter him in some of those better graded races. He’s up to 159 in Ireland and 162 in England, so I’d say we’ll enter him for some of those better races and see how we fare with him. He’ll be entered for the John Durkan at Punchestown and he’ll possibly be ready for that, while there’s a conditions chase at Thurles at the end of this month as well.

“He’s a high-rated horse and I think we will try these various conditions chases and see how we fare. He’s only really run in handicaps until now, so it will be interesting to see how he gets on. To be honest we’re just kind of seeing how it unfolds, so I wouldn’t like to make any predictions, but he’s a high-class horse.”

A memorable Cheltenham was crowned with victory in the Grand National, and de Bromhead says he is still struggling to comprehend the magnitude of his team’s achievements.

He said: “It was pretty surreal. Still now looking at the photos is surreal I have to admit. I’ve never really won these races individually so the whole thing was incredible, and I’m probably still just waiting to wake up. You dream of winning the National once, so I wouldn’t dream of winning it twice!

Frank Berry

“The race [Grand National] wasn’t on my radar really with him until Frank Berry said around Christmas time, after his second in the Paddy Power, that he was eyeing up the race for him. It seemed a very good idea as soon as he said it and we went from there. We made some makeshift fences here and the first day he schooled them he was having a right old look at them. It was an exhibition when he went there, he jumped brilliantly and was almost giving them too much height.

“The first round is survival and to have three in it and to have three going out for the second circuit was just amazing. We jumped the Canal Turn and they were there and I started to think ‘wow, this is unreal’. Then, unfortunately, we lost Chris’s Dream but you see ‘Balko’ tanking away and Rachael cantering over the fences. It was nearly disbelief for me, so it was incredible.”

Henry talked about Rachael Blackmore’s role in the success. “She’s an extremely important part of it all, she gets on great with him [Minella Times] and in that race it felt like she was able to look around corners as she was making decisions before things went wrong. She was getting in the right place and I think we got the luck we needed too. The way Rachael was manoeuvring round there was incredible.”

Iconic races

While last season will go down in history for de Bromhead, Blackmore and the rest of his team, the trainer takes nothing for granted. He explained: “They’re all iconic races that you dream of winning, I never thought I would when starting off and the fact that we have is just incredible. I’m probably a terrible man to not enjoy these moments as I’m always looking forward. It’s certainly changed a few things – none of you were here last year!

Asked about Ireland’s dominance at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, de Bromhead is of the opinion that what goes around almost certainly comes around. He concluded: “I think it’s a cyclical thing. I remember when Ireland having one winner at Cheltenham was a big thing.”

THE Randox Grand National-winning jockey Rachael Blackmore has hailed Henry de Bromhead as the “game-changer” who has helped transform her career. The 32-year-old made history last season.

In March she became the first female to be crowned leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival, with six winners over the four days, before then winning the world’s greatest steeplechase at Aintree on Minella Times the following month.

Between July and October Blackmore endured nearly 100 days out of the saddle due to a fractured ankle, but time spent on the sidelines has given her an opportunity to reflect on the enormity of her achievements, and how none of it would have been possible without de Bromhead.

Speaking at the trainer’s yard in Knockeen, Co Waterford, she explained: “He’s been a game-changer. When I came down here my career has just taken a completely different path, on an upward curve I suppose. He’s provided me with the big successes I’ve had in racing. It’s been incredible really – I’m so grateful to him and to everyone down here for what they do with the horses because essentially you can’t win these big races if you’re not getting on these horses.

“He’s got unbelievable owners, he’s exceptional at his job, and he just makes my life a lot happier. It’s been unbelievable to be associated with Henry and this place.”

Looking back to those career-defining moments, and the Randox Grand National victory specifically, she said: “It’s something that everyone would dream about I suppose, and it is THE race. It’s still hard to believe that I’ve actually won it – it’s incredible. It’s definitely a replay I love watching! It’s still hard to comprehend it all to be honest. I know that might be silly to say a couple of months on, 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. It’s hard to put it into words. It was an initial feeling of elation I suppose.”

Rachael remembers watching the race as a child. She recalled: “I think every kid is the same. It’s the first race that captures your imagination when you’re younger and when you’re riding a pony. I just remember watching it. We were at a friend’s house with my two best friends and they were doing a sweepstake. I can’t remember what age I was and I can’t remember what won or who was in my sweepstake, but I just remember the Grand National being on and watching it.

Like no other

“I think everybody has a story like that, so it’s just the race that captures the imagination of everyone. I definitely got the feel after winning it that it does reach a lot of different parts of the globe, unlike any other race.”

Owner JP McManus and de Bromhead are plotting Minella Times’s route back to Aintree next April for a defence of his Randox Grand National crown, and Blackmore sees no reason why the eight-year-old cannot emulate Tiger Roll and Red Rum in winning the race in successive seasons. “I can’t see why not! He loved it around there which is a big help. I’m sure Henry and JP will discuss his plans for the season but he’s a very special horse to me,” she said.

“He was phenomenal to be honest. I knew after jumping two or three fences on him that he was really going to take to them and it was really enjoyable. 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.”

Aintree heroics

Blackmore’s Aintree heroics came barely three weeks after a sensational Cheltenham Festival, during which she won six races – five of them Grade 1s. Success at the two major festivals prompted her to accept an ambassador role with The Jockey Club.

She went on: “Cheltenham was unbelievable. We thought that winning the Champion Hurdle was massive and then the week just seemed to fall right for me and the ball bounced for me - it was fantastic. As jockeys we’re just trying to continue on and stay riding winners and I’m extremely lucky to be associated with Henry’s yard. What he did last year was sensational. If you rode for him in the Gold Cup or the Grand National you were going to be in the first two places home, so I’m very lucky to be associated with him.”

Blackmore is keen not to look too far into the future and that includes not talking about the possibility of becoming the first female to win Ireland’s jockeys’ championship. “Right now that isn’t something that I’m even thinking about to be honest. I don’t set myself targets. Things in racing can change very quickly, so I just try to take it day by day. I’m heading to Thurles today, trying our best to try and get a winner out of today and that’s how I approach things.”

Peaceful idyll

The stables at Knockeen are a peaceful idyll away from the hustle and bustle of racecourses, and Blackmore says that the equine superstars thrive in their home surroundings. She explained: “It’s a fantastic yard, everyone gets on really well; it’s a good system, it’s grown over the years but everyone knows their job.

“Henry’s got Dave Roche and Emmett Raher, his two head people, and they do a fantastic job, as do everyone working underneath them. It’s a great place to work. I really enjoy coming down here to ride out. The horses are extremely well looked after here, as they are in every racing yard, but they seem to enjoy what they do and Henry’s method of training helps to keep them interested and happy and they really enjoy their jumping so it’s a great place to be.”