THE record book will show that the gallant One For Arthur was king of the 2017 Randox Health Grand National for jockey Derek Fox, trainer Lucinda Russell and the two ‘golf widows’ Bel McClung and Debs Thomson who wanted a sporting passion of their own.
Yet an appendage should be added. If it wasn’t for the fitness instructors and rehab team at Jack Berry House, the Injured Jockeys Fund complex in Malton, a deliriously happy 24-year-old Fox would not have been able to win his very first National.
When he dislocated his right collarbone joint, and fractured his left wrist, on March 9, Fox feared he would miss his date with destiny on a horse that took his career to new heights when landing Warwick’s Classic Chase.
Passed fit last Monday, Fox had just four rides – including a fall – before winning the biggest race of all. “The recovery all comes down to Jack Berry House and the fitness instructor, physio and all the staff were so helpful. I can’t thank them enough,” the elated jockey told The Yorkshire Post.
“I hadn’t sat on a horse for three weeks so for Lucinda and Scu [Peter Scudamore] to put me on and keep the faith in me. It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had – there’s not too many chances to ride a horse like that. It’s an unbelievable feeling – I can’t describe it.”
Fox’s joy was in contrast to the disappointment of the Malton-trained Definitly Red who had absolutely no luck. Badly hampered by The Young Master’s crashing fall at Becher’s Brook, jockey Danny Cook’s saddle slipped and he had to pull up his mount.
“He went over the top, Danny went up in the air and as he came down, the saddle went under his belly and then he couldn’t pull him up and jumped the next fence with no saddle,” said phlegmatic trainer Brian Ellison who will target next season’s Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, and Cheltenham Gold Cup, with his stable star. “It’s just unfortunate but the horse is fine. That’s the thing with the National, you have to keep out of trouble and unfortunately we didn’t.”
At least Cook got further than North Yorkshire rider Brian Hughes whose mount, Vicente, fell at the first while Middleham jockey Henry Brooke pulled up Highland Lodge at the final fence.
On a blistering hot day, One For Arthur’s win was a throwback to past years when horses like Red Rum hunted round for a circuit before getting into contention.
“After we gone one circuit, I was thinking ‘I can’t be going as well as I am’ as we were so near the leaders. He jumped all the way down the back – he was going so well that I thought I might take him a bit wider as he was making two or three lengths with every jump,” said Fox.
Indeed the winner – just the second Scottish-trained horse to land the National – was not even mentioned in commentary until turning for home, Fox’s only scare coming at the penultimate obstacle when he jumped into the back of the leader Blaklion.
From then on, there was only going to be one winner – One For Arthur having sufficient in hand over Cause Of Causes, the perennial Saint Are and Blaklion who were all ridden by consummate horsemen. On a day where all 40 runners and riders returned unscathed, the winning trainer’s biggest problem was trying to get hold of her mother by phone immediately after the race. “The one time she’s not answering,” said one-time psychology student Russell, the daughter of a whisky baron and the fourth female to saddle a National winner.
It was equally emotional for her assistant trainer and partner Peter Scudamore who never won the race. He was wearing his late father’s lucky tie and feared rapidly drying ground had put paid to One For Arthur’s chances. Scudamore senior, who won the 1959 National on Oxo, would have approved of the patient tactics.
The same for the aforementioned owners, lifelong friends who decided – over fortifying gin and tonics at Kelso races – to club together to buy one good racehorse. Little did they know that this £60,000 purchase would win the National.
And then Fox who embraced his agent Bruce Jeffrey who is mourning his own father. “Your father was looking down on me,” the grateful rider told the man who has helped to build up the jockey’s contacts while becoming established as Russell’s stable jockey in succession to the retired Peter Buchanan.
“I couldn’t ask to work for nicer people. Lucinda is one of the best trainers around,” added Fox. “Scu is a great help – the jockey coaching is amazing. It’s a dream come true.
“Not everyone can be champion jockey but this race just gives a standard jockey like me a chance to shine on the big stage.
“I was so determined to get back. Some might have thought I wasn’t fit enough but they kept the faith.”
And so, too, did Jack Berry House.