Tuesday 25 October 2016

Lucinda Russell: Scotland’s First Lady

Lucinda Russell trains at Arlay House Stables in Milnahort, Kinross and is best known for saddling One For Arthur to win the Grand National in 2017. One For Arthur had finished a staying on fifth, beaten 3 lengths, in the Betfred Becher Chase over 3 miles 2 furlongs on the Grand National Course and won the Betfred Classic Handicap Chase over 3 miles 5 furlongs on his previous two starts, so was fancied for the National proper. An excited Russell admitted beforehand, “I’m just looking forward to the day – I feel a bit sick just talking about it.”

She needn’t have worried. Having travelled and jumped well, One For Arthur made good headway after the third last fence, overhauled the favourite, Blaklion, between the last two fences and stayed on strongly to beat Cause Of Causes by 4½ lengths. In so doing, One For Arthur – apparently named after Arthur Guinness, founder of the eponymous brewery – became just the second horse trained in Scotland to win the National and made Russell just the fourth female to train a National winner. She said afterwards, “He jumped fantastically and Derek [Fox, jockey, having his first ride in the National] gave him a great ride. He has done us proud, done Scotland proud and done everyone at the yard proud.”

Russell, 51, started training in 1995 and saddled a winner with her first ever runner, Fiveleigh Builds, at Perth, just 30 minutes’ away up the M90, in September of that year. She later recalled, “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”, of course, is Peter Scudamore MBE, former eight-time National Hunt Champion Jockey, who is her assistant trainer and partner. All in all, Russell has saddled over 600 winners, including nine at graded level, and she and Scudamore have formed the most successful partnership in the history of National Hunt racing north of the border.

Russell trained her first winner at the Cheltenham Festival in 2012, when Brindisi Breeze – described by his trainer as “a nutter” – stayed on well under Campbell Gillies to win the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle by 2 lengths from Boston Bob. Tragically, just over three months later, both horse and jockey were dead. Brindisi Breeze jumped out of his paddock and was killed instantly after colliding with a tanker and Campbell Gillies died after an accident while on holiday in Corfu, the day before his 22nd birthday.

Tuesday 11 October 2016

Neil Mulholland: “Jump racing is a great game, nothing better”

By his own admission, Neil Mulholland has “a bit of fun training some horses for the Flat”, but is, predominantly, a National Hunt trainer. He took out his first full training licence in 2008, when he replaced his former employer, Paul Keane, at Larkinglass Farm, near Shaftesbury, Dorset.

By far his best horse in those early years was Midnight Chase, who won 11 races, including the Argento Chase at Cheltenham in 2012, and finished fifth of 13, beaten 19 lengths, behind Long Run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2011. Following his retirement, Mulholland said, “I owe him an awful lot, but the main thing is he has retired safe and sound.”

In 2012, Mulholland moved his string to Conkwell Grange Stables, a purpose-built yard in Limpley Stoke, near Bath, Somerset. In 2012/13 he saddled 19 winners under National Hunt Rules and has steadily improved his total, year-on-year, culminating with 108 winners in 2016/17.

However, life as a trainer has not always been plain sailing for Mulholland. In Novermber, 2014, he saddled The Young Master, an impressive, 7-length winner of the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton, only for the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) to lodge an objection. The objection, on the grounds that the horse was not qualified to run in the race, having run just twice over fences, instead of the prerequisite three times, was upheld. The Young Master was disqualified and Mulholland was fined £250 after being found to be in breach of Rule (C)37.

He said afterwards, “I wasn’t the only one at fault. There were something like 1,500 non-qualified entries made last year, but [racing administrators] Weatherbys changed their [computer] system in September. It failed and I’ve had to pay the price.” To add insult to injury, The Young Master was raised 14lb in the weights for ‘winning’ at Wincanton.

In March, 2015, Mulholland saddled his first winner at the Cheltenham Festival, when Druids Nephew, ridden by Barry Geraghty, won the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase by 3¾ lengths. The King’s Theatre gelding started 10/1 fourth favourite for the Grand National on the strength of that performance but, having taken the lead at Valentine’s Brook on the second circuit at Aintree, fell at the fifth last fence.

One horse heading to the Cheltenham Festival in 2018 is Kalondra, who finished tailed off in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown last time, but on ground “a touch too soft for him to be seen to best effect”, according to his trainer. The 7-year-old has subsequently been dropped 2lb in the weights and can be backed at 16/1 for the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase, which Mulholland described as his “logical target”.