While everything went right when the Scottish-trained gelding galloped to victory in the showpiece race two years ago, everything since seems to have gone wrong.
A seemingly innocuous injury later that year was in fact serious enough to keep him out of racing for more than 600 days. Whatever happened to One For Arthur is a question that has been asked more than once after he disappeared from view almost as quickly as he crashed into the public’s consciousness. It is hoped he might provide an answer tomorrow by becoming the first two-time winner of the Grand National since Red Rum.
Trainer Lucinda Russell believes winning it a second time, firmly against the odds, would comfortably trump the first triumph. It’s been a long road back. “I am very stubborn so I always knew I wanted to get him there,” she said. “But I did at one point think: should we not just give up the idea? But you can’t do that. We have a responsibility towards the horse, the owners and racing to get him there in the best shape we can.
“Like anything, when disasters happen it is easier when you are in it,” she said, as she recalled the day in late 2017 when One For Arthur was found to have disrupted fibres in his right fore superficial flexor tendon. “If someone had phoned and said this is what is happening I would have been more wound up.
“He came back from the gallops and he was lame in front. He was actually lame on his foot, not his tendon. But we took him into Edinburgh to get him looked at and when he was in there they happened to scan the tendon and found the hole.”
According to Russell, the worst part was having to inform the “The Golf Widows”, the name by which One for Arthur’s owners Belinda McLung and Deborah Thomson are known. “You are upset for yourself, you are upset for the horse but you are very upset for the dream that you are just about to crash,” she said. “Sometimes, being a trainer, you find you are telling people what emotion to have. You are telling them the triumphs, you are telling them the disasters. It is quite an odd thing. They did not tell me about that when I first became a trainer!”
The principal triumph to date, we know about; a sunny day in Liverpool, a jockey – Derek Fox – returning after breaking his left wrist and right collarbone a few weeks earlier to ride the first Scottish-trained winner of the Grand National since Rubstic in 1979. While Fox has again been beset by injury woes – he suffered a slipped disc at the end of last year – it is One For Arthur who has been foremost in the thoughts of everyone at Arlary Stables, near Milnathort.
It might have been a case of out of sight, out of mind for many, even those who had profited from a flutter on him two years ago. However, this wasn’t the case at Russell’s HQ, where One For Arthur underwent an extensive period of rehabilitation. Andy Murray isn’t the only Scottish champion who, with their career on the line, has gone to the well and back. Healing aids included an equine aqua treadmill, which Russell invested in last year at a cost of more than £100,000.
“When he injured his leg, it was the start of October,” she recalled. “We had to give it time to recover, so the first thing you do is box rest him and keep it [the injury] cold. We have an ice machine that can make 20 kilos of ice in a day. After that it is about trying to make it heal as best you can, so we do a lot of walking on the water tread mill we have now.”
Russell, pictured with Fox, is notably upbeat despite One For Arthur having unseated his rider in both races since his return. A recent gallop and jumping session at Carlisle was declared a success and, with rain at least forecast at Aintree last night, it could be that things are looking up again for a horse who brought so much joy to Scotland two years ago.
One For Arthur’s success rubbed off on those at Russell’s yard and his recent return has given everyone a fillip.
“For the yard [the Grand National win] has been fantastic,” said Russell. “It has given everyone confidence. Not just Derek but the other jockeys as well. It just brings the standard up. I am very proud.
“It is funny, because you tend to think it is just about me and I am upset because we have not managed to complete a race. But actually it is everyone. And everyone talks about it. You are out on the gallops and everyone is talking about Arthur.
“Last Monday we had our daily meeting at 7am, everyone was so buzzing Arthur was coming back. It really does affect the whole yard. It is a great community. We probably have all the best people we had in 2017 – they are still with us now. It will be good to go to war again.”