Looking back at a National treasure
The onset of the award season at the end of last year revived pleasant memories of one of the biggest Borders sporting stories of 2017.
Back in April, at Aintree, the Grand National was won by One For Arthur – the first Scottish-trained winner since Rubstick 38 years earlier.
The horse – trained by Lucinda Russell and ridden by Derek Fox – was owned by two ladies from the Borders who dubbed themselves The Golf Widows – a nod to the fact they’d wandered into the world of racehorse ownership to keep themselves occupied while their husbands were away playing golf.
Eight months on, as we bade farewell to 2017, Belinda McClung and Deborah Thomson were asked about their memories of the day and the media interest which followed. For a few weeks, the nation craved more knowledge of the team which had crafted such a superb run by One For Arthur, and the two ladies behind the humorous epithet.
As it transpires, One For Arthur will not be competing in this year’s National. A tendon injury means he will be resting for most of this year before training and running again – but the ladies hope he may be back at Aintree in 2019.
It’s a small injury, they said, but a lot of time will be needed for the eight-year-old to make a full recovery.
On National day, One For Arthur was fourth from last at the midway point of the world’s greatest steeplechase but, smoothly and clinically, weaved his way through a packed field on the outside to take command over the last two fences.
For the ladies, the aftermath of the dream-come-true tale shone radiantly for a while, then faded a bit, then flickered into life again when the end-of-year awards were being handed out.
“For a few days, it was a bit overwhelming,” said Belinda, of Ancrum. “It was quite full on for a few weeks afterwards, and then people forget about about it pretty quickly.
“I haven’t had to think about it too much, but now he’s been invited to loads of things. It’s been quite nice again – it’s been lovely. But, at the end of the day, it’s not really about us. It’s about the horse, and Lucinda and Derek.
“People are still interested in One For Arthur and hoping he is OK, especially now they know he’s injured. He is fine.”
On the Monday after their triumph, the ladies appeared on ‘Good Morning Britain’ on ITV with Eamonn Holmes, and did a series of radio interviews on local stations around the country.
“The memories are still very fresh,” said Deborah, of Cessford, near Kelso. “We’ve had a cracking eight months and I’ve enjoyed every moment of it.
“The awards season has been happening – we’ve been invited to a few and won some, but just being nominated for them is great. You don’t need to win these things – just being part of it is good. It’s been a fabulous journey.”
Among the accolades they picked up was the Editor’s Choice at the Sunday Mail sportscotland Scottish Sports Awards – with One For Arthur becoming the first four-legged winner.
“We knew we would get some media attention but didn’t quite expect to get as much as we did. It was quite surreal,” added Deborah.
“All the support everybody gave us was just amazing as well, from people we didn’t know, although they knew us from TV. People go out of their way to say congratulations.”
One For Arthur made guest appearances at a number of courses – including Kelso – in the days after his victory, and people loved seeing him.
Many were hugely impressed with his Aintree performance and Deborah added: “He ran a super race. It always takes him that little while to get going and get into his rhythm. He is not a speedy horse but he is a good jumper – and he stays. He could have carried on.”
Belinda and Deborah have another horse – a five-year-old novice hurdler named Templenaboe. What could lie ahead for him?