For those who are passionate about National Hunt racing, it easy to label a great horse a legend but in real terms, fans of any sport do have a tendency to over-state but when it comes to horse racing, none of us can ever be wrong when stating how great Red Rum was.
Even to this day, it is hard to believe that Red Rum achieved what he did, three wins in the Aintree Grand National in 1973, 1974 and 1977, plus two second places in ’75 and ’76, still defies belief. When one adds a win in the Scottish Grand National just three weeks after his 1974 Aintree triumph, his achievements are put into greater perspective.
Red Rum’s legacy is also the legacy of his unorthodox trainer, Ginger McCain, who guided this horse to unparalleled success despite having extremely delicate feet which none of his four previous trainers could deal adequately with. At that time, McCain was nothing more than a horse racing enthusiast who enjoyed the opportunity to train a few horses at his small and inadequate stable which lay behind his garage in Southport where he also operated as a used car sales showroom.
To get Red Rum ready to race, McCain would take the horse at the local beach where slowly but surely, the effect of the sand and the sea water improved his feet and before long, his racing improved too.
The rest as they say is history. McCain earned the nickname “Mr Aintree” and although his success in the sport was never to equal those halcyon Red Rum days, it was due mainly to McCain’s facilities in Southport not attracting the quality of new horses that Red Rum’s success should have earned him. It was not until 1990 after Ginger had taken over the Bankhouse stables in Cheshire which finally attracted the bigger owners and his training operation began to grow.
However, it still took Ginger 14 more years before he was back in the big time, when in 2004 he saddled Amberleigh House to victory in the Grand National, giving him the record of training four winners of the race. Amberleigh House’s victory also ensured a big future for the stable as well as a big future of his highly regarded son, Donald McCain junior, who took over the running of Bankhouse when his father retired in 2007.
Nothing could have been better therefore for the McCain’s particularly for Ginger when Donald junior saddled a fifth “McCain trained” winner of the Grand National in 2011 with Ballabriggs. This victory could not of course be better timed as sadly Ginger, having witnessed his son’s success, passed away five months later after a short illness.
It was clear that the McCain name was never going to be far away from Grand National glory and having five winners between them with the potential of even more with Donald junior, the McCain name, like that of Red Rum is here to stay and will be forever synonymous with the Aintree Grand National.
Aintree racecourse have never wavered in their praise for Ginger McCain, who they believe made a significant contribution for the race being saved after huge pressure was heaped upon it by the anti-national hunt lobby. In the wake of his death, the racecourse commissioned sculptor Nigel Boonham to produce a bronze bust of Ginger McCain which will be sited permanently at the Aintree racecourse. It is due to be unveiled at the 2012 Grand National meeting.
Wouldn’t it be fitting for one of the Donald McCain entries to be first past the post and with the entries of Ballabriggs, Weird Al and Wymott, the fairytale ending to the 2012 Grand National cannot be ruled out.