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Grand National 2017

SUNDAY TIMES 9TH April 2017

Since former Derby winning jockey, George Dockery, saddled Lottery to win the first Grand National in 1839, the winner of the world’s greatest horse race has been trained by one or two geniuses, several villains, a couple of war heroes, a noble baronet and three women. Yesterday a fourth woman and the first ever psychology graduate joined the roll of honour. Step forward Lucinda Russell.

Thirty years ago her parents’ hopes for the academically talented daughter of a Scottish Whisky baron might have felt rather unfulfilled if they were to be told that she would be spending the night of Friday 7th April 2017 in a camper van with a 58 year old ex jockey on the outskirts of Liverpool. They would have been further confused to be told that this was to be the eve of the best and history-making day of her life.

But red-headed Lucinda has ploughed her own furrow with a winning mixture of determination and charm. She made herself into a successful event rider and while she did win one point-to-point as a jockey she is happy to admit it was a two horse race. While she originally got a licence to train hunter chasers in 1989 and took three years to saddle a winner, she also dabbled in marketing, did not take out a full training licence until 1985, and it was not really until eight times champion jockey Peter Scudamore came to share her life some ten years ago that she forged her yard in Kinross into Scotland’s leading operation.

They make a wacky, happy pair. She loves to say that she is “just the top of the pyramid” and Peter to claim yesterday that, “it’s not me, it’s not her, we fight like cats and dogs to do this together,” but they have long won respect, not just for their professionalism, but their loyalty which was seen so strongly in their decision to stick by their young jockey Derek Fox. When Peter said “it’s lovely to give a young man like Derek the opportunity,” there is the memory that one of their greatest days before this National involved another young jockey but ended in tragedy.

In March 2012 their Brindisi Breeze had won the Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival under a fine ride from 22 year old Campbell Gillies. Within four months both were dead, the horse killed by a lorry, the jockey in a holiday accident in a swimming pool. Russell and Scudamore duly won the race named in Campbell’s honour and continued to support young riders.

“It means everything, of course it does!” said Lucinda in the glow of triumph yesterday. “I’m just so proud of the horse. He jumped fantastically and Derek gave him a great ride. He’s done us proud, he’s done Scotland proud and he’s done everyone in the yard proud. Before the Melling Road I turned to the owners and shouted ‘We’re going to win the National’. With a horse like that and a jockey like that, what could be better. It was a bold call but it was right.”

Joining up with Scudamore has linked her to one of jump racing’s greatest dynasties and Peter, who never won the National in 12 rides was wearing a tie belonging to his father Michael who won the race in 1959 with Oxo. “I think it brought us some luck,” Lucinda added. I’m delighted for Scu – without him I couldn’t do it.”

But at the Melling Road moment when she first shouted for victory, Peter Scudamore was torn with a conflict of interest. For as One For Arthur continued to make progress on the outside, Peter’s own son Tom was galloping with serious winning prospects on Vieux Lion Rouge along the rail. Fortunately for the father, if not for the son, the dilemma was soon resolved when Vieux Lion Rouge’s stamina gave out and the Scottish horse could thunder on to glory.

Afterwards Lucinda and Peter came up to our ITV rostrum to be embraced by A.P. McCoy and for Peter to once more be teased by the question of whether he would have traded a jockey’s championship for winning a National. To stand close to people who have been through this crowning experience is to be bathed in the happiness that shines out of them. “Look,” said Peter, trying to adapt his favourite grumpy old git persona, “this is grandad’s lucky tie. I don’t usually believe in things but there must be something in it. I would wear lucky underpants if I thought they did any good.”