An Interview with Top Trainer Lucinda Russell
Updated: Dec 29, 2021
Lucinda Russell was a pony-mad child, pony-clubbing and riding eventers and showjumpers. She originally grew up in Edinburgh but the family moved in 1979 to Arlary, outside Milanthort, near Kinross. She started training racehorses between the Flags before getting out a professional license in 1995. That September, she sent out her first winner with her first runner: Fiveleigh Builds at Perth, and another three winners over the following month!
Photo Credit: Sky Sports
So far, Lucinda is the greatest Scottish trainer and has trained many a big winner. Most notably, the 2017 Grand National winner, One For Arthur, who won by four and a half lengths under Derek Fox on a brilliantly sunlit day. She is only the fourth woman trainer to do so and the first Scottish trained since ‘79. She won back-to-back Haydock Grand National Trials in 2010 and ’11 with Silver By Nature, and again with Lie Forrit in 2015. Brindisi Breeze won the 2012 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle – the first Scottish winner at the Cheltenham Festival for a decade.
There have been the heart-breaking days too; losing Brindisi Breeze months after his enigmatic victory and later that summer, the inconsolable loss of his jockey, Campbell Gilles. Both losses slammed the yard hard but to lose a member of the team was desperately sad and tough. Yet, racing continued and so did they, somehow marginally consoled by the fact that Campbell Gilles will continue forever in their memories and in racing history.
Last season was a cracker with Ahoy Senor’s Grade 1 win in the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle and a week later, Mighty Thunder’s patriotic win in the Scottish Grand National – the first for the home team in nine years. There are the smaller days too, that resonate the yard’s ongoing success, such as Big River’s seventh win round Kelso.
Ahoy Senor after his Grade 1 Aintree victory
The Russell Family history lies in whisky distilling. With the same diligence that the family developed Isle Of Skye into the major brand it is today, Lucinda has grown her training operation. She studied Psychology at university and recently ‘still had to go on a course to learn about mental health!' It wasn’t so trendy or identified in those days,’ explains Lucinda. She is always improving her training ways, for horses and people, assisted by a loyal team and her partner Peter ‘Scu’ Scudamore – MBE, and an eight-time Champion Jockey who rode 1678 winners. They train at Arlary where she grew up, half an hour north of Edinburgh. Lucinda even acknowledges how she ‘ruined my parents’ lovely country house by putting up all these sheds’. But out of those ‘sheds’ have flown a Grand National winner, Aintree and Cheltenham Festivals winners, over 750 other winners and a 2018 OBE. Long may it continue.
Did you have a horsey childhood?
Yes, I started leading ponies on the beach, giving pony rides and progressed to the Pony Club from the age of ten onwards. My parents were not horsey but were long suffering and drove me to Pony Club rallies and days hunting.
Did you compete and in which disciplines?
I evented, show jumped and rode in a total of three point-to-points.
How did you start training racehorses?
I trained a couple of point-to-pointers and one of the owners asked me to take out my full license. I didn't realise at the time how it would change my life. Having always loved horses suddenly training became my whole world. Just fantastic!
What have been your best days racing so far?
The 2017 Grand National win with One For Arthur was so special as the owners are Scu’s and my great friends and it was a dream come true for all of us.
Ahoy Senor and Mighty Thunder winning at the top-level last season was important to us all as a yard. Since the covid lockdown, we are an even closer-knit group so those wins illustrated how we have all worked together to win at the highest level.
How special was it to win this year’s Scottish National?
Owned by Scottish owners and winning with a horse we produced from a three-year-old made it special. Tom Scudamore was riding as a stand-in for usual jockey Blair Campbell, who was injured. It was sad for Blair but special for us as a family and it really capped a brilliant spring.
What are your favourite racehorses?
I am in awe of One For Arthur and Ahoy Senor, they have such strong characters. I have a massive soft spot for Aurora Thunder, a tenacious filly who I ride most days.
What are your favourite racecourses?
Aintree has always been a lucky track for our horses. Their standard of track and horse care is exceptional.
Is there a horse you would have loved to train?
Red Rum... he was the poster on my wall when I was a child.
Is social media positive or negative?
Positive; it's a great way to communicate. I zap/block anything negative on it.
“Team” seems a huge concept within your yard – how important is this as a trainer?
It's not just about being a team leader but a team player. Like many yards, the work is hard, but everyone pulls their weight or they don't stay. Scu and I ride out and I think this helps with communication and understanding each other. I am so proud of everyone who works here, the support within the yard is huge, and everyone cares about the horses and each other.
In what ways does Peter Scudamore fit into the dynamic of the yard?
He is a rock to me and for the jockeys. His greatest talent is to give the riders confidence and to help them make the right decisions naturally. I like to think I am in charge but just maybe he is...
Scu, One For Arthur, Jaimie and Lucinda the day after winning the Grand National
Photo Credit: Dennis Penny
Who do you admire in racing?
We are so lucky to employ some amazing people and I am humbled at their devotion to our horses. Our senior staff Vicky, Jamie, Cameron, Hannah, El, Stephen, Derek and Blair are role models for the sport. However, Jaimie Duff has to get a special mention as she has been beside me since I started and is a friend and a support to so many in our yard and throughout racing.
What are your other interests/hobbies?
As I get older, I seem to have a fascination in watching the birds... I even have a bird spotting book. Oh dear.
I loved following the Lions this summer. Scu and I also spend lots of time with our three dogs.
What generally does racing do well?
Horse welfare, we should promote how much we do to look after horses to the highest level.
Where could aspects in racing be improved?
The going for jumps racing should be no quicker than good. Statistically there are fewer horse and jockey injuries when the ground is on the soft side.
I am scared by the accusations of doping. Performance enhancing drugs caused the fall of cycling and will do the same for athletics. I would hate it to be involved in racing.
Photo Credit: RaceBets Blog
What does racing mean to you?!
It's all about the horse. I love this world as while it gives some crushing lows it is a celebration of the majesty, strength and talent of the horse
George Ezra, Saw Doctors and Billy Joel
Anything on the BBQ eaten outside with salad
Red and rosé wine and Edinburgh Gin (not all at the same time).
Favourite holiday destination:
Deauville Sales in the campervan.
Photo Credit: The Herald