It was an historic moment. Whenever I rewatch the final moments of the 2017 Grand National, it gives me goosebumps every time. One For Arthur leapt into second over the penultimate fence at Aintree and then took the lead over the last. Despite Cause of Causes battling hard, there was nothing that jockey Jamie Codd could do and Derek Fox rode only the second Scottish trained National winner in the prestigious race’s history to a win by 4 ½ lengths.
The winning trainer was Lucinda Russell, and she trains One For Arthur and many other top-class jump horses from her Perthshire yard near Kinross. Along with her partner – eight-time champion jockey and racing legend Peter Scudamore – and her hard-working staff, they masterminded an incredible ride in the race that stops a nation, making the people of Perthshire and indeed Scotland proud in the process.
It’s almost a year since that incredible day at Aintree and the festival season is upon us once again. Over the next few months, Cheltenham, Aintree and Ayr will take centre stage once again, not forgetting Perth Festival in April which is another key fixture in Lucinda’s racing calendar. With preparations well and truly underway for this exciting period in jump racing, I was invited along to Arlary House to catch up with Lucinda, Peter and the team.
And what a day it was for it. The sun was shining and it was already busy when I arrived in the morning. The horses were getting ready to go to the gallops and I was greeted by Peter – or Scu as he is more commonly known – and quickly whisked away to watch the horses do their morning runs.
Scu rode 1,678 winners in an incredible career as a jockey and is Lucinda’s assistant trainer. Along with his companion – little Springer Spaniel, Tiger – we watched as the riders put the horses through their paces on what has to be one of the most picturesque gallops in the UK, with views over Loch Leven and the Lomond Hills.
Then it was back down to the stables to meet Lucinda herself and we sat down over a coffee in her office, the walls covered with pictures of her previous winners in a career spanning nearly 25 years. She’s Scotland’s most successful racing trainer but her path into the sport wasn’t exactly the most conventional.
“My background was very much a sort of show jumping and eventing one,” she told me.
“I've loved horses ever since I was a young child and since we moved here from Edinburgh when I was 13-years-old I’ve always had them. After I graduated university, I was still involved in eventing and one day I was given a horse to rehabilitate and that one was from a hunting background. I've loved horses ever since I was a young child and since we moved here from Edinburgh when I was 13-years-old I’ve always had them.
“From there, we were asked to take the horse point-to-pointing and it won, so it was really from that moment on that I became involved in racing!”
Lucinda’s first race as a professional jumps trainer was just a short journey from her Kinross-shire yard over to Scone, and that very race in the early autumn of 1995 proved to be a sign of things to come.
“My first race was at Perth Racecourse and it was a horse called Fiveleigh Builds. And would you believe it we won! Things actually started incredibly well for me and I followed that up with another three winners so in my first four weeks as a trainer I’d had four winners. I remember thinking this game is easy!
“Of course that’s not the case and that’s when the rollercoaster started. After about ten years finding my way in the sport and with fourteen horses in the yard, I met Scu and he moved up here and joined me.”
Scu is quite literally a legend in the sport and comes from a racing family. His Dad, Michael Scudamore, was a Grand National-winning jockey in 1959 and his two sons Tom and Michael (junior) are also involved in racing. Scu received an MBE from the Queen for his services to horse racing and rode winners at Cheltenham, the Welsh and Scottish Nationals, and the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury.
Together, the dynamic duo have spent over a decade putting together a successful stable which has now produced well over 600 winners and counting. The rollercoaster nature of the sport has given some fantastic highs to Lucinda, and she looks back on her first real crack at the Grand National in 2005, her early success at Perth Racecourse and the Cheltenham Festival Novices’ Hurdle win with Brindisi Breeze as particularly special highlights.
“In 2005 we had Strong Resolve running in the Grand National and that was amazing fun. The horse was owned by a syndicate of eight guys from Perth; joiners, electricians etc. It was brilliant to go down there with them for the race.
“There was a real naivety about us all but I think that made the occasion all the more fun to be honest. Strong Resolve ended up going off as one of the favourites but ended up finishing in 17th position – but it was still a great day out.
“Obviously the first win with Fiveleigh Builds was a big high for me but we had another horse called Catch the Perk and he ran a lot at Perth with loads of success. I think he won something like six races there one season – there was a period where he was just unbeatable! The races weren’t of an exceptional standard but it still brought us a lot of joy whenever he won.
“Then there’s Brindisi Breeze, what a nutter he was! He was a lovely horse and he won the Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2012 which was incredible – it was the first Scottish winner at the festival for ten years.” Brindisi Breeze - he was a lovely horse and he won the Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2012 which was incredible. It was the first Scottish winner at the festival for ten years.
However with highs there are inevitably lows too. Shortly after Brindisi Breeze’s big win at Cheltenham, the horse was killed in a tragic accident after escaping from his paddock and running onto the road where he was struck by a tanker. Just a month later Campbell Gillies, the jockey who was on Brindisi Breeze for that momentous win, died in what was another tragic accident on holiday in Corfu with friends. Both were extreme lows for Lucinda, Scu and the team to suffer.
She also told me of another low moment in her training career back in 2013, where she had to break the news of a fatal injury to Silver By Nature – who was owned by local businessman and former St. Johnstone chairman, Geoff Brown.
“I remember honestly feeling like we should cancel Christmas,” she said, “it was a really horrible moment having to break the news to Geoff.
“It’s never easy to give news like that to an owner but Geoff especially cared – he adored his horse. We were prepping him to have another pop at the Welsh Grand National because he’d narrowly missed out in his last ride there. He also had two Haydock Gold Cups to his name and was a really promising horse.
“Then one day on the gallops while we were getting him ready for the Welsh National he broke his leg. It was absolutely devastating. Geoff has a couple of really nice young horses coming through though, so it would be really lovely if one of them could go down to the Welsh in the future and win it in Silver By Nature’s memory.”
After suffering those lows, it’s probably not a surprise to discover that Lucinda and Scu considered giving up horse racing to pursue new careers. Lucinda told me that her hard-working team played a huge part in the pair deciding to remain in the sport and thankfully they did.
If they hadn’t, we may not have witnessed what happened at Aintree in 2017. As the conversation shifted back to One For Arthur, Lucinda’s eyes lit up as she reminisced about the lead up to last year’s Grand National and what unfolded on the day itself.
“We had such a detailed plan in place for Arthur and every day each member of the team knew what was happening. This was detailed months in advance – the preparation was meticulous.
“Everything really went according to plan and I remember when it really hit me that we had a great chance of winning. Ten days before the race, Arthur was doing his final preparation and I remember sitting in the yard just quietly saying to myself please be sound, please be sound – any niggles or mishaps at that point would have been a disaster.
“Erin was riding him and when she came back down to the stable she said to me, ‘I can’t believe this but he’s improved again!’ He’d already reached an incredible level but he was still improving. We’d organised a press day the following day and I was actually quite cocky! I kept being asked what our chances were and I repeatedly said we’re going to win.
“It’s funny looking back now because throughout the entire race I was so sure he was going to do it. People were saying he was too far back but I knew him and I knew he was in a good position and running well. If you make a plan before the race that goes so well it just fills you with confidence and it was just an incredible day for everybody involved here. It’s taken our yard to a whole new level.”
After a quiet-ish summer to get over what they’d just achieved, Lucinda, Scu and the team got straight back to work and although they don’t have any runners for the Grand National this year they have a busy schedule over the next few months at the different festivals.
One of the horses to watch out for is Big River, a horse Lucinda is excited about pitching at the highest level for the first time and one that she told me has fantastic ability. A decision is still to be made on whether he runs in the RSA Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham although it looks like it may have come one race too soon for the eight-year-old. However he is likely to feature at either Ayr or Aintree and Lucinda still hasn’t ruled an appearance at Cheltenham next month. I adore Perth. It’s summer racing so the weather is better and there’s just a different atmosphere there when compared to other festivals.
It’s going to be a hectic few months for the yard and there will be lots of travelling throughout the UK over the next six weeks or so, but despite glamorous trips to Aintree, Cheltenham and Ayr to look forward to, taking horses to her local racecourse is something that she has always loved doing.
“I adore Perth. It’s summer racing so the weather is better and there’s just a different atmosphere there when compared to other festivals. It’s a racecourse that’s improving massively and they’ve invested huge amounts of money into making the ground better which is great news as the horses’ welfare is the most important thing.
“We had a quiet year last year at Perth by all accounts but this year we’re really targeting some winners,” Lucinda said as she showed me a notebook of horses earmarked to run at Perth in 2018, “we’ve picked 30 to 35 who are well suited for the ground.
“We’re hoping to have a successful season at Perth and we’ve got a few young horses who will appear towards the end of the year that we think have a bright future. It’s a track that’s been good to me in the past when it comes to winners and hopefully 2018 will provide more of the same.”
There was still time for Scu to take me round to meet the individual horses at the Arlary House stables and they were being looked after by a happy and hard-working team that are all extremely passionate about what they do. They may already be Scotland’s most successful yard and have a Grand National win to their name, but something tells me that Lucinda, Scu and the team have a lot more success on the horizon in the years to come.
Lucinda Russell Racing
Main image in this article was captured by Chris Strickland.
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