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Boxford trainer Derham praises improvements to Grand National

Harry Derham praised the changes for this year’s Grand National and, after a successful race with all horses returning safely, he said that change was necessary.

Willie Mullins took a lead in the British Champion Trainer running with his Grand National winner I Am Maximus, and despite his loyalties to Paul Nicholls and Dan Skelton, Boxford-based trainer Derham said the Irishman would be a deserved winner of the title.

Speaking to OLBG, Derham said he has set his sights on Punchestown and Sandown to close off the season after a successful campaign where he claimed 38 wins.

Derham’s team will return to Ireland, with the Englishman lauding the hospitality he received when racing with Givemefive at Fairyhouse on April 1.

Looking back at the Grand National, having praised the changes pre-race - how did you judge the race?

“I personally loved it, everyone says it’s not like it was before; and that’s correct, but it can’t be like it was before. If we want the Grand National to happen, it cannot be as risky or challenging as it was 20 years ago.

“We want competitive racing, we want high-class racing and that’s what we got. I thought we had a fantastic winner, as well as a Gold Cup winner (MInella Indo) finishing third and it was a superb race.

“They all came back safely and I loved it. It's a very different race to what it was; but it’s going to become a very high-class race now.

“Having tipped I Am Maximus pre-race, you can see how the cream really rose to the top.

“It was a fantastic horse race, I really enjoyed it.”

The trainer’s Championship is incredibly tight at the top, do you think that Willie Mullins deserves to win it?

“It would be hard to say that Willie Mullins doesn’t deserve to become Champion Trainer after his success.

“If you win a Champion Hurdle, Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National - he is the dominant force in racing at the moment.

“If he wins it, I won’t be grumbling at all. Obviously, I worked with Paul Nicholls for 11 years and am great friends with Dan Skelton, who taught me a great amount as well.

“They will all give it a really good go and I would love for it to go down to the season finale at Sandown, for the sport it is a very good thing.”

What are your plans for the closing weeks of the jumps season, with Sandown and Punchestown coming up?

“At Sandown, in the Novice Hurdle Final, Court In The Act will run there in the first race of the day.

“It’s been his target since Boxing Day, when he won at Kempton, and he qualified when he ran at Ludlow last time out.

“I’m just desperately hoping that this good weather keeps up, because he’s much more effective on good ground.

“He ran really well at Ludlow, behind Go To War, but the soft ground just caught him out a little bit.

“We’ve trained him for this race, he’s in fantastic condition, he’s nicely rated (119) and shouldn't be carrying too much weight.

“If the ground stays dry, I’m really looking forward to running him.

“The same applies to Lario, who ran a lovely race at Taunton last week.

“The track wouldn’t really have suited him, but I wanted to qualify him for this Sandown race; so I’m looking forward to what will be a fast-run handicap, which is when he would come into his own.

“I think he’s a little too inexperienced to win such a race at this stage of his career, but we’re looking forward to running him.

“We'll probably run Monviel there in the curtain-closer as well.”

Do you have fond memories of racing at Sandown, particularly your time with Paul Nicholls?

“Huge amounts of fond memories at Sandown - my last day of working for Paul Nicholls was one where he had five winners that day.

“If you don’t like watching two-mile chases around Sandown, then National Hunt racing probably isn’t for you.”

With quite a big team going to Punchestown, what did you learn from your trip to Fairyhouse?

“We’re not changing too much, they are going to travel over on the Saturday and our first runner is on the Tuesday.

“What we did learn from Fairyhouse is that they were delighted to have us there, and they made us feel very welcome.

“They looked after Givemefive, as well as Amy and Paige from our team who went over there, exceedingly well.

“Obviously, racing in Ireland is extremely competitive and very hard; but we’re going to go over there with some nice horses and we’re going to have a go.

“There’s a huge amount of prize money out there, it’s a fantastic track and the owners are going to get looked after incredibly well.

“You can sometimes take it for granted, but it's incredibly special to have runners at these famous meetings and we’re looking forward to it.”

Who are your headline runners?

“I’m being unfair to Brentford Hope by saying Fidelio Vallis - those two would be my two headlines.

Brentford Hope has been amazing for me, but I’m equally as excited about Fidelio Vallis, who runs on the Wednesday in a 2m5f handicap chase.

“It’s his second time at that distance, but I think it’s fine for him, he stays well now and he’s fresh.

“We’ve got a couple more gallops to go with him, but if the ground starts to dry out a bit and he gets a chance to test it then I’m really excited about him.”

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