16th APRIL 2023
The triumph will outlive the drama and this was a Grand National charged to the hilt with both of them. Delayed, debated, but finally quite wonderfully delivered by an epic ride from Derek Fox on Corach Rambler.
It was a second Grand National in six years for Lucinda Russell and her partner Peter Scudamore whose splendid operation up in Kinross produced a terrific Scottish victory for a happily named set of owners called “The Golf Widows” with One For Arthur in 2017. Corach Rambler’s team are an equally sporting foursome who call themselves “The Ramblers.” All very jolly but that was not the mood in the paddock when the news came through that the race would be delayed because of protesters.
39 horses ready for a Grand National do not easily fit in even in the big Aintree paddock. It had become a hot spring afternoon. Sweat was breaking out on Galvin’s neck. Longhouse Poet had a red hood to keep the lid on him. Tempers were ticking as the minutes sped by. Rumours flew. The 5.15 post time came and went. At 5.19 jockeys came into the paddock. No “entry of the gladiators” fanfare, just 39 riders with their game faces on.
Mounting and exiting from the paddock was all of a hassle. Mister Coffey gave a plunge as Nicky Henderson helped Nico De Boinville into the saddle which almost sent the great trainer over backwards. Sean Bowen in last year’s winning Waley Cohen silks walked out on foot with Noble Yeats behind him. No parade, almost immediate circling of the runners. Blood was up to boiling point. After one frantic circle and aborted despatch, the huge harlequin swirl of runners fanned out for the second time and set off with such intensity that you feared the worst.
It only took one fence to get it. As the cavalry charge drilled down to the first, 34 mph was on the clock, very much the upper limit to jump a fence and stay upright. Four partnerships did not last any further. Davey Russell, so eloquent an hour earlier as he announced the end of his tremendous, dual National winning career was parted from Galvin. Cloudy Glen and Receive A Prayer were also out and Scotland’s Hill Sixteen took a fall which proved fatal.
The Big Breakaway, Darasso and Fury Road went at the second and this was now a National with three loose horses up front as galloping hand grenades. The grey Coco Beach was the leader with Mister Coffey, The Big Dog, and Roi Mage and a big pack behind but top weight Any Second Now already out the back after being badly hampered.
Somehow they survived a loose horse running right across them in front of the Canal Turn but at Valentines another completely took out Lifetime Ambition. As often happens in present day Grand Nationals the pattern was now set for almost a full circuit with the eye trying to pick out horse moving extra easy as they come to the final mile. It’s not just in hindsight to say that it was to Corach Rambler that the eye was drawn.
This is a horse that usually gets behind in his races. Now he was moving sweetly close to the leaders from the start. For a long while Mister Coffey looked as if he would give Nicky Henderson the Grand National winner that has so long eluded him. Crossing the Melling Road and even at the second last he was still in command. But you could see that Corach Rambler could take him.
Derek Fox had only just returned from injury before winning on One For Arthur but this time a broken collar bone meant that he was winning the Grand National ride on his very first start back. It was not a sick man’s ride. Calmly he brought Corach Rambler through, asserted over the last fence, drew away on this longest of run-ins only stalling in the final yards as the Irish horses Vanillier and Gaillard Du Mesnil came through for the placings with Noble Yeats battling on to be fourth and another 13 following them home.
“I can’t believe it to be honest,” said Derek Fox to the TV camera after he had emptied two full bucket of water over Corach Rambler’s sweat soaked head and neck while more was sloshed behind the saddle. “He’s just a phenomenal horse, he’s been so lucky for me. I was blessed the day I ever got the leg up on him the first day. I can’t believe it.”
“He normally gets held up a wee bit, today he just jumped out and travelled everywhere, so I just let him bowl away. He’s electric to jump, he’s the cleverest horse, he is so intelligent. My only concern would be if he was in front for a long time. But he won so easy, all I do is do the steering. He’s a marvellous horse.”
His was a triumph, so very much to Lucinda Russell and Peter Scudamore. As he ran towards his horse, his son Tom rushed up to him and they embraced. “This beats everything” said Peter, a man whose great career never took in the National as a jockey but has now cracked it twice in another life.” Yes, the National does that to you – and to most of us.
But not to everyone as the unhappy scenes beforehand had showed. So racing should be grateful that in the headiest moments of her career Lucinda Russell could compose a quite majestic and sympathetic defence of the game.
“Those guys who went out to protest on course,” she said, “they think it is about horse welfare. That horse loves his sport, he loves everything he does. He is kept in the best possible conditions, and I am just so delighted that he can run in a race like that, perform like that, and he has now got greatness. It is what he deserves. Corach Rambler, in our hearts, is just the best horse, and now in the public’s hearts as well. I know how important winning the National is, and I know it changed my life the first time, and I know what reverence One For Arthur was held in, and now for Corach to achieve that is fantastic. It’s all about the horses. For me, it’s not about betting – although I did back him, quite a lot actually, antepost – but it’s not about that. It’s about the horse.
“I hope those guys will look at our website,” she added. “At the Facebook page we have, and see how these horses are looked after. It’s so important that they understand that we care for them every inch of the way. That horse has been amazing. I’m delighted for myself, for the team, delighted for Scu – he’s done all the work on it – delighted for Derek, he’s had a hard time, he’s had a problem with his shoulder. The team have all pulled together – we had a little problem with the horse at the start of the week – the owners are fantastic, but do you know what, it’s mostly about the horse. It’s about Corach. He is amazing. He took to those fences brilliantly, he understood them, he worked it out, he loved it.”
50 years after filing my first Grand National I still believe we are lucky to have it. And especially for it to have Lucinda Russell.