Having claimed the Grand National in 2017 with One For Arthur, Lucinda Russell and owner Debs Thompson, one half of the ‘Two Golf Widows’, are aiming for Welsh National glory this weekend with Big River - and his trainer is keen on his chances.
The postponement of the original running of the race may have meant that the team had a 800-mile round-trip from their Arlary base for nothing after Christmas but the rescheduled date may be a blessing for the 11-year-old.
“It’s given us time to let him relax and then build him back again,” Russell told Tote.
“He did a really nice piece of work last Saturday and we’re really pleased with him. Between then and now we’ve been able to keep him ticking over despite the fact it’s been a bit frozen up here.”
Fifth in last year’s Ultima Handicap at the Cheltenham Festival, Big River made his seasonal reappearance back at Prestbury Park, and although he was beaten 35 lengths, his trainer was more than happy with his run behind Ramses De Teillee.
“We were very pleased with his Cheltenham run. He always takes his first run to get going and in previous seasons he has jumped poorly on his first run, whereas this time he actually jumped really well and stayed on to finish third having jumped the last in sixth.
“It’s always very difficult because we have to sit and suffer on his first run of each season but I thought he ran above expectations and it was one of the best seasonal debut he's put in during his chasing career.”
“He’s got every chance”
Freshened up by that run at Prestbury Park, the Milan gelding has been dropped 2lbs by the handicapper which sees him come into the Chepstow showpiece off a rating of 141, just a pound higher than when fifth in the Scottish National two years back - something that gives Russell hope of a big run.
“He’s on a good mark so carries a great weight in the race. With it being heavy ground having a lighter weight will obviously help us.
“There are some good horses in this race, including the one that beat us at Cheltenham but I’d like to think he’d come on a lot for that run and the conditions on Saturday will suit him a lot better.
“At the races he can be a bit anxious. Over these extreme distances he can relax and get into a bit of a rhythm. He’s not a fast horse, he’s just one that will keep grinding away and if he takes to the track and the fences then I think he’s got every chance.”
There had been talks of RSA Chases and other Grade 1 contests being on Big River’s radar when he was a younger horse, but while he’s become a solid stalwart for the Arlary team, he’s not quite hit those heights.
“We were always comparing him to One For Arthur, but this horse had a little bit more class than Arthur as a younger horse so that’s why we were very optimistic that he was going to be very very classy.
“But as we’ve got to know him he’s a horse that stamina is his forte. The way that we train them, we tend to put a lot of stamina into them, so as he’s got older the four mile trips have become more appealing.
Staying stars are a testament to patient approach
Big River is the latest in a long line of staying chasers that have flown the flag for Lucinda Russell’s team from One For Arthur, to Silver By Nature and Lie Forrit.
For the trainer, while those horses obviously had staying qualities in them, a patient approach has been the best for her stable stars
“We spend a long time pre-training the horses and are quite patient with the horses and keep it in mind that the ultimate aim for them is for them to be chasers. We give them the time, and thankfully we’ve got owners that think the same way as us.
“In order to be a good stayer they often need to stay in training until a certain age, so we train them for longevity and it seems to be working.”