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Grand National: Silver By Nature to strike gold

By Chris McGrath

Away to the west, grey veins of snow cling to the highest of the Ochil Hills. Beyond the loch, to the south, slumbers the recumbent green giant of Benarty; and here, above the gallop, rises the steep shoulder of the Lomonds.

You could hardly come here every morning and fail to learn a broader perspective — even if the horses that come bounding up the gallop have, in years past, hypnotised your emotional perceptions.

Peter Scudamore stands up here with Lucinda Russell, watching Silver By Nature prepare for the world's most famous chase, Ulsterman Peter Buchanan getting the ride on Saturday.

The horse's owners are irretrievably divided about the Grand National. To Geoff Brown — the St Johnstone FC chairman — Aintree is the grey's manifest destiny. To his wife, Joyce, Saturday is only a matter of dread.

For Russell, meanwhile, there are additional burdens. A nation hopes that she can become the first to unfurl the saltire over Aintree since Rubstic in 1979.

The National would also seal the status of Arlary House as Scotland's leading stable. Beneath the curls, her eyes are steady, watchful, acute. She has always been candidly, helplessly competitive. Only she is no longer helpless.

For four or five years now she has shared business and pleasure alike with Scudamore, whose own fixation with results once won him eight riding championships. In those days, as he now concedes, his obsession could be corrosive. It eventually told on his marriage. Then he met Russell, and they have since held the mirror to each other, their broken edges refracted into a single, seamless image.

Scudamore, who spent years breaking records with Martin Pipe, taught Russell the delegation essential to the expansion of her stable. In turn, Scudamore has himself achieved a detachment that he almost feared in his riding days.

“You get older, and see there is more to life,” he says. “Which I didn't understand for a long time.

“I was an angry young man — well, no, not angry. Determined. It was my way of being somebody. Since giving up, you can perhaps be yourself more.”

There could be few better measures of this adjustment than the National itself. Scudamore could never crack it as a jockey, in 13 consecutive attempts from 1981.

Even as a child, the famous fences seemed to stand brooding in his path, his father having ridden Oxo in 1959.

“Wherever I walked as a kid, I'm with a man who had won the National,” he said. “And then riding, the championship meant everything to me — but people would still identify you with the fact you hadn't won the race.”

Until last year, of course, it was much the same for Tony McCoy. But Scudamore can no longer take comfort in that fellowship.

If he let himself, in fact, he could resume gnawing at the suspicion he retired too soon. It was 1993, and he was 34.

“Then Richard Dunwoody comes and wins it again, and then McCoy does it, and you still think: ‘Gosh I wish I'd gone on, I'm as good as them, I wish I'd...'“

He trails off briefly, brightens. “But I didn't really feel that last year. I was genuinely pleased for him.”

Belfast Telegraph

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