'Golf Widows' teed up for more National glory with King Arthur

‘I think we’d be partying forever!’

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Owners Belinda McClung and Deborah Thomson are quietly optimistic One For Arthur will not go down without a fight when he bids for a second victory in the Randox Health Grand National at Aintree.

It is two years since Lucinda Russell’s charge became only the second Scottish-trained winner of the world’s most famous steeplechase – and the first since Rubstic in 1979.

McClung and Thomson grabbed the headlines both before and after the historic triumph, largely due to their syndicate name of Two Golf Widows – with the close friends having bought One For Arthur to give them some interest while their respective partners spent their free time playing golf.

One for Arthur lined up on Merseyside as a major contender in 2017, having won at Kelso, finished a promising fifth in the Becher Chase over the famous Aintree fences and landed Warwick’s Classic Chase earlier that season.

McClung, from Ancrum in the Scottish Borders, said: “It seems an awfully long time ago.

“There was obviously a lot of media attention going into the race because of the whole Two Golf Widows thing. We’re probably a bit more under the radar this time, which I don’t mind at all.

“There maybe isn’t as much pressure, but I don’t think there was that much pressure then either, to be honest. Being a northern-trained horse, I think we were underdogs before we started.

“We watched the race with Lucinda on a TV in Ronnie Bartlett’s box. I don’t suppose we’ll be back there this year as Ronnie has a runner in the race himself (Rathvinden).

“I just remember I could barely walk after he’d won as my legs were like jelly and my mouth went dry – I think I was in shock.

“It’s such a long day leading up to it and then when it comes off it’s just unbelievable.

“The whole day is a bit of blur and the celebrations went on for about a year!”

Thomson, from Gullane in East Lothian, remembers the occasion a little more vividly.

She said: “I can’t believe it’s two years ago, to be honest. Now all the build up has started again it brings it all back and it just seems like the other day since he won it.

“I remember there being a huge build up and with him having won the race at Warwick so well, there was quite a lot of pressure.

“We all watched the race together and although I don’t think he even got a mention by the commentators until the second-last, we could see him all the way through and I was actually quite relaxed.

“The heartbeat certainly got a bit quicker once he got over the final fence and then to see him come home in front was tremendous.

“I’m still pinching myself now that we’ve won the Grand National. It is the greatest steeplechase in the world and to win it is very difficult.”

Little has gone right for One For Arthur since his moment of glory.

The 10-year-old missed the entirety of the following campaign due to injury and has run just twice this season – unseating his rider in both the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree and the Peter Marsh at Haydock.

However, a recent schooling session at Carlisle gave connections confidence One For Arthur is returning to peak form at just the right time.

McClung said: “I think we’re all looking forward to it. The nerves haven’t really kicked in yet, but I’m sure they will closer to the time.

“It hasn’t been a straightforward season for him as obviously he’s unseated twice and hasn’t really had his ground, and then he was due to go to Haydock and couldn’t because of the equine flu.

“But everyone was really happy after he schooled at Carlisle recently. Derek (Fox) was so excited afterwards – we could hardly shut him up!

“Lucinda has done a great job getting the horse back on track and we feel he’s as good as ever.”

Thomson added: “I think Carlisle just gave everyone some piece of mind. I couldn’t be there, unfortunately, but I’ve seen a few photos and videos and everybody was buzzing afterwards, which is great.

“Everything seems to have gone against us this season, but it’s all about the big day and hopefully we’re on the right track now.”

Like the hot favourite and defending champion Tiger Roll, One For Arthur is bidding to become the first dual winner of the National since the legendary Red Rum in the 1970s.

McClung and Thomson are under no illusions about the task facing their pride and joy.

“As the old saying goes, he doesn’t owe us anything, but hopefully he’s got a good each-way chance,” said McClung.

“I’ve read some people saying he should be retired, but what do they know? He’s loving life and loving what he’s doing. We’re horsey people and if we felt he was in pain or didn’t want to do it then obviously we’d retire him.

“We’re not expecting him to win it again, but if he gets a good run round then who knows?”

Thomson said: “I’m excited to see him going back to Aintree. It’s a shame he didn’t get the chance to go back last year and it’s great he’s getting his chance now to go back and try to regain his crown.

“He loves the fences and he’s entitled to go back. He’s an amazing horse who owes us absolutely nothing and the main thing we all want is for him to come home safe and sound.

“It will be very difficult to win it again, but if he has luck on his side – like he did two years ago – and stays out of trouble, I’m sure he’ll give it a good try.”

Asked how long the celebrations could last this time if One For Arthur were to strike gold again, Thomson quipped: “I think we’d be partying forever!”

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