Owned by a syndicate headed by former Scottish international rugby player John Douglas and trained by John Leadbetter in Denholm, Roxburghshire, in the Scottish Borders, Rubstic had the distinction of being the first Grand National winner trained in Scotland.
Relatively small for a steeplechaser, at just 16.2 hands high, Rubstic carried jockey Maurice Barnes, who was riding in his first National, to a hard-fought 1½-length win over Zongalero, ridden by Bob Davies, in 1979. Rough And Tumble, ridden by John Francome, led over the last fence, but faded on the run-in to finish third.
In an eventful race, in which just seven of the 34 runners completed the course, Rubstic avoided a melee, caused by two loose horses, at the Chair on the first circuit and the fall of favourite Alverton – who broke his neck – at Becher’s Brook on the second. He jumped the second last more or less alongside Rough And Tumble, Zongalero and The Pilgarlic, but took the lead at the Elbow and stayed on well for a historic victory.
Leadbetter bought Rubstic as a three-year-old for just £1,200, but his National win yielded just over £30,000 in prize money for connections, not to mention the returns on a series of lucrative bets on the 25/1 outsider. Douglas later reflected on the day, saying, “From the previous September right up to the race I put £5 each way on Rubstic every week and we backed him down from 66-1.”
Leadbetter, rather modestly, said, “The day he won was one of life’s better days, a magical moment, and an amazing feeling.” He did, however, admit to being overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of the celebrations when Rubstic returned to Denholm from Liverpool. He recalled, “Everyone was determined to party hard and the pubs were open all night. It seemed like nobody would go to bed. I didn’t get to the pub until around midnight and it was jam-packed.”
Rubstic died peacefully at home in Ladykirk in the Scottish Borders in January, 1995, at the age of 26. Former trainer John Leadbetter, who looked after Rubstic during his retirement, said at the time, “”It’s one of those sad days and like losing a best friend.”