Hogmanay must have been a fairly poignant occasion at Arlary House, where the close-knit team under Lucinda Russell experienced tragedy as well as triumph in 2012. But Scotland's leading trainer is determined to keep looking to the future and made a perfect start to 2013 by collecting three races in barely an hour at Ayr today.
Auspiciously, each of her winners is just starting out in a new discipline – dividends of a scrupulous recruitment policy. "We've got to be realistic, we're not paying stupid prices," Russell said. "But the big thing for us is to find good young horses. Because once we get them in, we think we have a fairly successful formula."
Russell has worked with the bloodstock agent Tom Malone in seeking replacements for Brindisi Breeze, killed in a freak accident after his breakthrough success at the Cheltenham Festival. But Tap Night, Russell's first winner in the silks of J P McManus, has less orthodox antecedents. He was found racing on dirt in Kentucky by Jane Buchanan, whose brother, Peter, is the stable jockey at Arlary. "She works for a trainer out there," Russell explained. "They don't have many staying races, and she looks for horses that are finishing. Tap Night has actually got a pretty strong pedigree. I don't suppose his breeders imagined he would end up winning a novice chase in heavy ground."
He looked a natural, however, in recording his fifth win in six starts. Though losing momentum three out, he was soon back on the bridle and coasted five lengths clear. "Obviously, he had done a lot of schooling," Russell said. "The syndicate decided to sell after his reappearance, and if you tell someone a horse is going to do well over fences you make sure you come up with the goods. The main thing now is more experience, and there's a valuable race over two and a half miles coming up at Musselburgh."
Green Flag, under a double penalty, and Imjoeking both won novice hurdles. "Green Flag is a different type from Brindisi Breeze," Russell said. "He's stronger, and loves soft ground. But he just keeps galloping. At some point we'll step Imjoeking up in trip, but he's showing so much pace we'll keep to two miles at the moment. Both will be fantastic this time next year."
For now, the horse in the stable furthest down the road is Bold Sir Brian, who heads for the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock on Saturday fortnight and will be given an entry in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Al's Memory (3.20 Lingfield) Fairly treated after a 3lb rise for his short-head second to a flourishing rival round Wolverhampton last time.
Sporting Gold (2.50 Lingfield) Much improved on handicap debut, having been gelded, and could win this without harming his rating.
One to watch
Blood Cotil (Willie Mullins) Looks the top Irish candidate for the JCB Triumph Hurdle after his win at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting.
WHERE THE MONEY'S GOING
Alfie Spinner is 10-1 from 14-1 with the sponsors for the Coral Welsh National at Chepstow on Saturday.
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