Donn's Articles » Derek Fox

Derek Fox

When Ryalux and Derek Fox fell at the first fence in a handicap chase at Carlisle on 9th March, it didn’t look good for the young rider’s prospects of making it back in time for the Aintree Grand National.  It’s some fall that breaks your left wrist and your right collarbone.

But the Grand National was Fox’s aim: be back riding and fit in time to ride One For Arthur at Aintree.  With help from the team at Jack Berry House in Malton, he made it there all right.  Indeed, he made it back in time to re-visit the scene of the injury that put his appointment with One For Arthur yesterday in jeopardy, to ride two horses at Carlisle last Wednesday.  And he gave his bones a fair test when he had another fall from Imjoeking in the Topham Chase at Aintree on Friday.

Nonetheworse for that fall, he lined up on One For Arthur in the Grand National yesterday, and delivered Lucinda Russell’s horse with a perfectly-timed ride to win the most famous horse race of them all.

“I want to thank Jack Berry House for getting me here,” he said yesterday.  “I owe a lot to the team there.  Without them I wouldn’t have made it.  I was so determined to get back to ride this horse, but without them I wouldn’t be here.  And Lucinda and Scu and the owners.  This is the best feeling.  It’s even better than I thought it could be.”

Hailing from Sligo in the north west of Ireland, Fox started off show jumping and pony racing when he was eight years old.  His mother’s side of the family were always involved with horses, his uncle Mark McNiff, now a trainer, was riding at the time and young Derek used to ride out in the mornings before going to school.

He rode on the pony racing circuit until he was 16, then took out an amateur licence when he left school and started riding in point-to-points. 

When his uncle started to train, Fox rode for him, and for Noel Kelly.  He spent a summer with John Carr before spending a year with Charles Byrnes, during which time, at the age of 18, he turned conditional.  He continued to ride for Mark McNiff and for Noel Kelly, and it was Kelly who provided him with his biggest winner to date in Ireland, Charlie’s Vic in the Grade 3 Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Limerick in March 2013.

He rode the Old Vic mare in all 14 of her races and to all four of her victories under Rules, and it was the ability that he displayed on the mare that got him noticed by Lucinda Russell.  Fox’s cousin Stephen Kelly worked for Russell, and Fox joined the Arlary trainer in October 2013.  At the time, he had ridden just 27 winners, but it wasn’t long before he started to hone his talent, not only as a jockey on the racetrack, but also in schooling young horses at home.

He rode his first winner for Lucinda Russell on The Friary at Hexham in November 2013, and continued to progress.  He rode 12 winners during his first season in Britain, and when Russell’s stable jockey Peter Buchanan retired at the end of last season, the trainer had no hesitation in entrusting Fox with the job as number one.

The rider made headlines in February 2015 when he was banned from driving for 20 months after being found to have been over the legal alcohol limit but, since then, he hasn’t looked back.  He lost his claim at the end of 2015, but that did not hinder his progress.  He had ridden 16 winners in Britain this season before yesterday, 11 of them for Russell but, even before yesterday, One For Arthur stood out. 

Fox rode the Milan gelding for the first time in a handicap chase at Kelso last October, and he duly won on him.  He rode him to finish fifth in the Becher Chase over the Grand National fences last December, before riding him to victory again in the Classic Chase at Warwick in January.  That was the biggest win of the jockey’s career.  Before yesterday.

“Not everyone can be champion jockey,” said the rider.  “That’s just the nature of it.  But the Grand National just gives a standard jockey like myself a chance to shine on the big day.”

© The Sunday Times, 9th April 2017