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McIvor's Engine

Updated: Apr 11

An Interview with Paul McIvor – Race Planner and

Bloodstock for Lucinda Russell

 

Not many live their teenage dream but Paul McIvor has. Having a non-horsey background did not stop him forging a career within racing at the highest level.


After graduating from Loughborough University with a degree in Sports Science with Management, Paul, 38, focused on racing. Since 2017, he’s been Race Planner for trainer Lucinda Russell, plotting campaigns for all her runners. It is a very varied role, which also touches on bloodstock. He watches hours of recordings of Irish point-to-points and reads a lot of sales catalogues. Living in Stanmore, Middlesex, Paul is ideally situated to represent Lucinda at the races when they send runners down south and he is at every sale, prepped with the knowledge gleaned from those race videos. A massive part of Lucinda Russell's operation, Paul has so far been involved with Grade 1 winners and the staggering career of 2023 Aintree Grand National victor, Corach Rambler.

To have once watched horses win big races and now be involved with such winners...that is Paul's dream come true.

 

Where did your interest in horse racing come from? When I was a teenager, my mum’s partner's Saturday staple was going to put on a Lucky 15 at the bookmakers and then watch the racing on Channel 4 during the afternoon. I took an interest in racing through that, which just grew and grew and grew to the point that it became my career.

 

What roles have you had in racing? Originally, just after university, I worked for William Hill and then I worked for Timeform. I branched out on my own, freelancing here and there. I've been with Lucinda Russell since 2017.


How did you channel your interest into bloodstock? It's something I've fallen into a little bit. At Timeform, I was a race reporter so my job was to watch and analyse races. At Lucinda’s and Peter Scudamore’s, I started analysing form and their horses’ positions, which lead to me taking an active role in race planning.

When the sales came, I started researching form and watching videos. Going to the sales with Lucinda and Scu meant I picked up more of the bloodstock side. They are still very much the authority on aspects like confirmation but beforehand, I will have watched a video of every single horse in the catalogue and made my notes. At the sales, we have a look at the ones we like, then we put our heads and knowledge together, covering an awful lot of bases.

 

How do your previous roles help you nowadays? My knowledge of reading a race and my experience from Timeform allows me to pick up on things that may otherwise be missed. That's the key – everyone can see the horse that won first time out by ten lengths and that’s going to cost £300,000, but the ones that, without a little mistake, would have been closer offer more value.


What are the best horses you've been involved in buying? The three main ones are Corach Rambler, Ahoy Senor and Apple Away. They've been the best so far – Corach has won twice at Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National, and Ahoy Senor and Apple Away are both Grade 1 winners.

 

What is the horse you wish you'd bought? At the Aintree sale in 2022, we really liked Dysart Enos, Fergal O’Brien’s mare, when she was sold. We were very interested in her but our budget didn't stretch far enough. She's the one that I wish we could have taken home.

 

What is your favourite sale? I really enjoy going to Deauville in July. We've done well picking up two-year-olds out of there and targeting the newish junior National Hunt sale. In 2022, we got Rocheval from there and he's won a junior bumper at Aintree and junior hurdle at Ayr. We also bought I Wish You, who's finished second to him on both occasions.

That's a really good sale and Deauville is a lovely place and being by the sea, you feel like you're on holiday whilst you're still working. It's the one we look forward to every year.

 

Do you ever go racing? Yes, as much as I can. I'm London-based so if Lucinda has runners at Sandown, Ascot or Kempton, I'll get the call up because it's a long way for her and Scu to come.

 

Favourite racecourse: I really enjoy Sandown – I have good memories of going there. I love the racetrack and it has really good viewing all the way around. When you get a two-mile chaser jumping with speed down the back, it's a great track.


Before the sales, do you look at pedigree or form first? We've done well with horses by unfashionable stallions like Old Man River. Apple Away’s sire Arctic Cosmos is another one that woudn’t necessarily be the most popular choice.

To me, the first impression counts whether it's on video or in person. When watching the videos, I always go with the visual impression. I also definitely look for good movement, especially a horse that can walk and move. Being athletic, I think, is very important when jumping fences and hurdles. One of the things that struck me a lot about Apple Away was her walk – she almost strutted, she used herself, head down and had a bit of swagger.

 

What did it feel like to watch a horse you've been heavily involved with the purchase of win the Grand National? It was incredible, and also very strange! After the first circuit, the race began to take shape and I found myself getting even more nervous. I thought Corach was going too well, and then I thought he was going to win or go very close. Halfway, I didn't know what to do with myself: I watched some fences, and couldn’t watch other fences. He did his usual bit of stargazing and chucked his head in the air up the run-in to keep everyone on their toes. I was watching the floor and walking around… It was a huge release of emotion when he did cross the line in front. Such an incredible experience!

 

Can you describe what it's like working alongside the duo of Lucinda Russell and Peter Scudamore? They've been so good and kind by giving me lots of opportunities and many chances. Scu is very passionate about racing and knows the jockey-side of things, whereas Lucinda is so knowledgeable. We all work together and bring slightly different facets to the table, which is why it works so successfully.

 

What do you love about a day at the sales? When you're bidding and willing the hammer to go down and someone else bids at the last minute, it's such a buzz.

I remember one of the first times Lucinda, Scu and I had covered all the preparation and inspections together and then I was left, bidding on their behalf, Lucinda on the phone. I thought I was pretty calm but as soon as the hammer knocked down and I came off the phone, my heart was going quicker than it's ever gone.

At the sales, there’s good camaraderie. Everyone travels round together so you’re with the same people – you get to know everyone well and there’s always a good atmosphere.


Favourite meal: Roast dinner.

Favourite drink: I don't drink alcohol so it’ll have to be water. Also, coffee keeps me going.

What is your preferred snack at the sales? I'll often take a handful of nuts. I always have porridge in the morning, which keeps me stocked up for a good while.

Favourite holiday destination:  I went to Australia once, playing cricket for eight months and I’ve always wanted to go back. I’d tie in the Melbourne Cup for a big trip.

Favourite book: I like reading non-fiction. At the moment, I’m reading The Rules Of Life by Richard Templar.

Favourite film: One called Remember The Titans about American football.

Favourite music: I don't listen to current music but I enjoy ‘90s and early 2000s pop and R&B, which was out when I was growing up and at school.

Other hobbies and interests: Sports in general, keeping fit, going to the gym, playing football. I also enjoy F1, NFL and reading a book.

               

 

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