Trainer Lucinda Russell returns to the scene of her greatest triumph on Saturday when Mighty Thunder lines up in the Becher Chase over Aintree’s famous Grand National fences.
Russell sent out One For Arthur to capture the world’s most iconic race in 2017 and looks to have another exciting star in her yard in the shape of last weekend’s runaway Newbury scorer Ahoy Senor.
We caught up with Russell to get the latest on her stable star, find out her thoughts on her weekend runners and ask how One For Arthur is enjoying his well-earned retirement.
Many people were blown away by Ahoy Senor’s wide-margin victory in the Grade 2 John Francombe Novices’ Chase at Newbury. What did you make of the performance?
We’ve always thought he was a cracking horse and he’s won a Grade 1 and we were muttering about whether it was a good idea or not, but we knew that he was a decent horse. He learned a bit going round Carlisle and Scu [Peter Scudamore] said this is one of the best horses we’ve got and our best chance of having a decent horse in the Newbury race, so that’s why he went there, and I was blown away by it as well. I think the first-time round he learned a bit again about his jumping and after that he really seemed to get it all together.
What stood out to you about the performance?
He’s a very strong horse and Derek [Fox] gives him a super ride, he can contain his enthusiasm which is great without dominating him and it’s a case of learning for him and that’s what struck me is that he’d really worked it out with his jumping. People were cribbing him a bit for going right-handed occasionally but I think he showed just what an exciting horse he is.
Where are you hoping to go with him next?
He’s got three options; he could go to Kempton, but it would need to be very soft ground there but if it is soft, we could look at that on Boxing Day and if not there’s a race for him at Warwick or else he could go to Lingfield.
You’re busy at Aintree at the weekend. Let’s visit down memory lane to start off with. Can you take us back to what it was like to win the Grand National with One For Arthur?
It was phenomenal and he was a fantastic horse. We talk these days about being a team and about the staff but for the owners as well and the excitement for those owners – we’re all in it together. We talk about going on a journey together and we’ve made such great friends since then. The race itself, everything happens so slowly, and you have it in your mind how you want it to be ridden and he was just perfect. To have a winner at that level is a fabulous thing.
You retired One For Arthur last year. What is he up to in his retirement?
He’s good, he’s doing a bit of dressage and show jumping and going round fields, he’s definitely being very much well-loved and will always live a life of luxury.
Mighty Thunder runs for you in the Becher Chase. How are things with him?
I’m pleased with him, he’s a different type of horse to One For Arthur, and we’re so lucky and delighted for the owners. They bought him as a three-year-old and we had a super season last year. He ran in three Nationals and he loves the staying trip. He’s by Malinas who’s very relaxed and likes staying trips so 3m5f shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Obviously, we’ve got to make sure that he’s going to take to the fences as they are different.
What do you need in a horse to take on those spruce fences?
I think you need a horse who’s not going to be too scopey over the fences or too taken aback by the fence. The ones that just jump them and find it easy. The fences nowadays are much more straightforward than they used to be, and I think the ones that have got the attitude not to be phased by things, that’s the important thing.
You have a couple of other runners on the card, Return Fire and Auroras Thunder. What do you make of their chances?
Auroras Thunder who we have pitched into the race and it’s definitely a step up in grade for her. She’s only a small filly and I think she will benefit from carrying a light weight, she seems in fantastic form and it’s a good time for her to take her chance in these better races and the softer ground won’t be an issue – 2m4f is just perfect for her so we hope she will run a big race. We are also hoping Return Fire can run well and his handicap mark looks a workable one.
And, finally, Derek Fox is a big part of the team now and has enjoyed the success with you, what’s it like having that trainer-jockey relationship with him?
He’s just outstanding. He’s a huge part of the team at home and helps the young lads. He helps us with the training of the horse, he’s just very wise and sensible; he’s got a wise head on a young body. We have so much confidence in him when he’s riding our horses and we really trust and believe in him.