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Scottish horse-racing is basking in the sunshine provided by turning the popular notion of a North/South divide firmly on its head.
Traditional talk of southern stables dominating many of the most lucrative prizes – particularly jumping-wise – has been somewhat silenced by the results of the sport’s two biggest handicap races in 2017.
First, One For Arthur, trained at Kinross by Lucinda Russell and her partner Peter Scudamore, made a successful raid on jumping’s £1m Aintree Grand National in April.
Then barely five months later, Nakeeta, part of the increasingly-successful string managed by Iain Jardine – an ex-jump jockey based at Dumfries – grabbed the flat’s prestigious £285,000 Ebor Handicap in the final strides at York.
The successes are a notable achievement; this area of British racing once inclined to be neglected as a ‘poor relation’ cannot be any more.
And Scottish racing is throwing its weight behind hopes that One For Arthur – owned by friends Debs Thomson and Belinda McClung, known as ‘The Golf Widows’ – could become the first horse since Red Rum to win back-to-back Grand Nationals.
The conditions of the race at Kelso – which was won by the eight-year-old last October as he started the campaign that would see him end up with Aintree success – have been tinkered with to accommodate the horse.
Technically, his new official rating – all horses have one, allotted for use when assessing merit and weights to be carried in handicaps – makes him ‘too good’.
However, the management of the Borders track has been able to tinker with the details, plus add some extra prizemoney, so that the EDF-ER Handicap Chase over three-and-a-quarter miles on October 28 can be the first target.
“It’s great for us, but it’s great for Scottish racing that there’s a race here for him,” said Scudamore, an eight-time champion jump jockey in the 1980s and 90s.
“The win at York for Iain and the team was fabulous too, and there’s a real sense of pride in what’s being achieved.
“The standard of training is phenomenally high – Keith Dalgleish is churning out winners, and if Jim Goldie takes one south for a sprint, everyone sits up – it’s probably never been better.”
Jump racing is littered with trainers who have won the Grand National, but who insist that it didn’t change their lives, to the extent that they didn’t get any new horses or owners from it. Not Russell and Scudamore.
One For Arthur is one of 70 horses they have in training for the upcoming ‘core’ national hunt season, a figure up “10 to 15” on the start of the 2016/17 campaign.
After a series of celebratory parades at Scottish tracks immediately after his big-race victory, with jockey Derek Fox on board, the horse had two months off before returning to Russell’s stables.
“He never does particularly well in the field – getting fat and round – so we’ve actually been putting weight on him,” said Scudamore.
“He’s been hacking around the farm and cantering, and we’ll step things up gradually before Kelso. Then all being well, we’ll go the same route, which means going back to Aintree in December for the Becher Chase, in which he was fifth last season.
“Then we’ll hopefully try to win at Warwick in January again, and then it’d be fantastic to go back to the Grand National, all flags flying after last year.”
A case of One For Arthur going for two.
London News & Search