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 has revealed.
The trainer hopes his superstar can become only the third horse in history to win the world’s greatest steeplechase two years running, emulating Red Rum and Tiger Roll.
But before he gets to Aintree, Minella Times is likely to be taking on some classy opposition.
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 he’s up in those graded ratings 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, so the end of this month to early December is what we’re aiming for.
“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.”
Reflecting on winning the Grand National, de Bromhead admitted 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!
“The race (the Grand National) wasn’t really on my radar really with him until Fran 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.
“You never really know how they’re going to fare at Aintree and I suppose that he potentially jumps his fences too well, in that he makes such a shape over them, so you don’t really know until you go and do it.
“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 – and the first challenge of it. 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.
“I’m looking at Any Second Now coming back at them and I’m holding my breath because having watched this race for so long you know the race can be lost at the Elbow, but Rachael kept plenty in the tank.
“She’s an extremely important part of it all, she gets on great with him 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.”
The trainer had already exceeded the expectations of many just weeks earlier, by saddling six winners at the Cheltenham Festival. In fact de Bromhead was only pipped to the leading trainer’s award that week by Willie Mullins on account of his fellow Irishman also training six winners but having four more second placed horses over the four days.
And 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 (the media) were here last year!
“We’ve certainly tried to reflect on the last year and then people will say it back to you and it’s still hard to believe, which sounds a bit silly. It’s been quite hard to celebrate it in the times we’re in, so it’s all slightly different.
“I’m adamant that if we weren’t in the middle of Covid that I wouldn’t have even seen us win the Grand National after our Cheltenham – I wouldn’t have made it home! You have to keep moving forward so you can’t sit back too much.
“It was surreal but there was still a bit of a clap and cheer. There was a bit of a crowd at the National which was good. Cheltenham was amazing, but it was very functional and you were flat out until 8pm.
“I put myself in as one of the team to work in the yard – you wouldn’t normally do that but it made sense to do that – so we were just there to get the job done and thankfully we did.”
As for Ireland’s dominance at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, de Bromhead is very much 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. It’s so competitive here but it’s very similar in England.”