Grand National Ladies – Lucinda Russell

Lucinda Russell became only the second Scottish-based trainer to win the Grand National as One For Arthur stormed to an impressive victory at Aintree on 8th April 2017, 38 years after the success of Rubstic in 1979.

Scotland’s leading trainer, who has sent out over 600 winners from her family’s Arlary House Stables near Milnafort in the County of Kinross since starting out in 1995, also joined a select group of women handlers to taste glory in the world’s greatest chase, emulating Jenny Pitman, Venetia Williams and Sue Smith.

Having moved from Edinburgh as a young child (born on 24th June 1966), Russell grew up surrounded by horses and credits an early Grand National memory as a defining moment that eventually put her on the path to training.

“I remember getting a real kick out of Red Rum winning his third Grand National (1977) and I think that’s when I fell in love with racing,” she explained.

“The Grand National is such an incredible race, everyone has their own story about it. Straight after the race I kept thinking, ‘This is incredible, I’ve just won the Grand National!’ and it doesn’t really sink in. It’s just been my ambition all the time.

“Everyone kept saying beforehand that the worst question a journalist can ask you is “how would it feel to win the National?” and you think ‘Oh for goodness sake, what would it mean?’ – it means everything, of course it does.

“It’s really funny how everything went right. The preparation for One For Arthur – when we worked out what training he was going to have, we built in an extra week for something to go wrong like lose a shoe.

“We had the race in mind for him all season and we were dead keen that he should get to Aintree in the best possible shape. We had all bases covered with lots of people doing all different things – massage people, vets, our farrier – and it has been amazing to produce a horse to win the greatest chase in the world.”

Russell, who holds a degree in psychology from St Andrews University, enjoyed a successful career as a three-day eventer and at bringing on horses to Badminton standard and selling them on.

She did well as a point-to-point trainer and won on one of her three rides in that sphere, but she recalls that it was a two-horse race – at Fife in April, 1993, when she guided Panegyrist to victory. She trained a hunter chase winner with Gunmetal Boy at Kelso on 5th April 1993.

After a brief career in marketing, she took out a full trainer’s licence in August, 1995, and the following month she saddled her first winner with her first runner, Fiveleigh Builds at Perth in September, 1995.

A first runner in the Grand National followed during the same season as Greenhill Raffles finished 14th behind Rough Quest.

Two subsequent runners prior to One For Arthur also completed the course without being able to mount serious challenges, with Strong Resolve coming home 17th in 2005 and Silver By Nature finishing 12th six years later.

Her father Peter is chairman of Ian Macleod Distillers, which produces Isle of Skye Scotch Whisky and Glengoyne Single Malt Whisky.

Russell was formerly married to leading three-day eventer Magnus Nicholson and she is assisted by her current partner, legendary Jump jockey Peter Scudamore, the eight-time champion jockey who was closest to winning the Grand National when third on Corbiere in 1985 from 12 rides in the race.

Her best season numerically came in 2013/2014 when she sent out 66 winners.

Irish point-to-point graduate One For Arthur was purchased for £60,000 by Russell and bloodstock agent Tom Malone at Brightwells sale at Cheltenham Racecourse in December, 2013, on behalf of the Two Golf Widows, Bel McClung and Debs Thomson.

They had considered quite a few horses in the sale, but Russell and the two owners were adamant it had to be One For Arthur.

Before the Grand National victory, he had already established himself as a progressive staying chaser. The son of Milan had shaped well over the Grand National fences when a close fifth in the Becher Handicap Chase earlier in the season before warming up for the big race with an impressive victory in the G3 Classic Handicap Chase at Warwick on soft going in January – a performance that guaranteed his place in the Grand National.

“One For Arthur jumped fantastically and I thought Derek gave him a great ride,” commented Russell after seeing the eight- year-old triumph at Aintree. “I have such faith in the horse and Derek, and I knew that we had produced him for the minute.

“He’s a fabulous horse and you only have to ride him once or twice to know he’s a real superstar. I think that the first time that Derek rode him at Kelso at the start of the season, he came back and said ‘I’ve never ridden a horse like that’ and it’s just great for him now to win the Grand National.

“Very, very good horses have something about them and One For Arthur certainly has it.”

One For Arthur’s Aintree success also capped a tremendous season for jockey Derek Fox, who had been appointed stable jockey to Russell following the retirement of Peter Buchanan in April, 2016.

“Derek is amazing,” Russell commented. “I know he’s a horseman and everything, but his timing is fantastic as well, and the self-confidence he has is brilliant. He had One For Arthur jumping brilliantly.

“He is so mentally and physically tough. He had a broken wrist four weeks beforehand and we were really worried about him, but he has absolutely come back and given the horse the ride of his life.

“Before the Melling Road, I was up with the owners and we just shouted ‘We’re going to win the National!’.

“With a horse like that and a jockey like that, what could be better? Derek is great at getting these horses to finish strongly and I knew that he would stay, so maybe it was a bit bold but it was right.”

Russell was quick to pay tribute to her team for getting One For Arthur to Aintree in peak condition, including Scudamore whose father Michael won the 1959 Grand National on Oxo.

Scudamore said: “There were times before Christmas when I thought: ‘I have been champion jockey, why am I exposing myself to this poor humiliation?’

“We changed a few things at Christmas-time and it picked up again. Sometimes loyalty is still a great thing and I was very pleased that we stuck by Derek and he won the National.”

Russell added: “I always say that it’s fine, I am the figurehead and I am saying what is going on, but actually it is everyone back home who have done so much, from the farrier getting up on a Saturday morning to our vet coming here.

“We have got a fantastic team behind us and it is great – long may it continue.

“One For Arthur is owned by two fantastic ladies from the Borders, who have really come on board with us and are having the greatest times of their lives as well.

“They have been so loyal to us and have let us get on and train the horse. They have been behind us the whole way and the great thing is how much they are enjoying it now.

“Winning the Grand National has elevated my confidence that I can train at the highest level and that’s important to me. But, it’s not really about me. I’m getting all of this publicity just now but in truth it’s about everyone behind you – they’re the ones that look after all these horses and do all the hard work for all of us.”

THE TWO GOLF WIDOWS

The Two Golf Widows, a partnership between Bel McClung and Debs Thomson, won the Grand National with their first runner in the world’s greatest chase, when One For Arthur proudly prevailed at Aintree on 8th April 2017.

It was a tremendous thrill for the two Scots to see One For Arthur win so well, receive the winner’s trophy and enjoy the prolonged celebrations at Aintree, then at trainer Lucinda Russell’s base near Milnathort and long beyond.

Belinda (Bel) McClung, who is married to Fraser, hails from Ancrum near Jedburgh, while Kelso native Deborah (Debs) is based in Gullane near Jedburgh, where she lives with her partner Colin Dempster.

The pair went to school and pony club together, but drifted out of each other’s lives. Both women went on to own horses in various partnerships at trainer Lucinda Russell’s yard and met up again there.

They got into racehorse ownership together as they wanted an activity they could enjoy while their menfolk played golf.

McClung has also acted as a raceday steward at Ayr, Kelso and Musselburgh racecourses in Scotland.

Speaking after their success last year, Thomson said: “It was just a great feeling. One For Arthur was at the back quite a bit and people thought he had fallen.

“He was only mentioned at the second last and he was going so well we were confident he was going to win.

“Coming down the home straight, we thought we had got a definite chance.

“When he crossed the Melling Road, the trainer said we had got a Grand National winner, but I was not quite as confident.

“The way he jumps is like a stag and he just knocked them off one by one. We were just screaming when he came over the last fence till he crossed the line – it was an amazing feeling. It was a dream just getting him to the Grand National and then to win!”

Recalling how the Two Golf Widows was formed, McClung explained: “We were at Kelso races and had had a lot of gin and decided to get a horse together. We went to Cheltenham sales and got One For Arthur [for £60,000 in December, 2013].”

The son of Milan had by that time run in five Irish point-to-points, being placed twice and winning his final one, a 12-runner three-mile maiden at Lingstown by three lengths the month before.

Bred by John Dwan at his Ballyreddin Stud in Co. Kilkenny, One For Arthur was sold for 14,000 euros as a yearling and then for 34,000 euros as a three- year-old in 2012.

He has since won seven of his 19 races for Russell and been placed second or third in another eight of those outings.

Thomson added: “We always hoped he’d be a National horse in the making. When he was hurdling, we always thought he’d be a chaser – he’s a fabulous jumper and a stayer.

“Our dream was to get him to Aintree, but to actually win, well I’m lost for words. I’m just delighted.

“The partnership name is slightly tongue-in-cheek – but my partner Colin is on the golf course every weekend. There’s probably two weekends a year when he’s not! And Fraser’s a keen golfer.

“Bel and I decided to have a horse together and that is when we found Arthur. We didn’t realise we had just bought such an amazing horse, but he has given us such a wonderful journey.”

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