Tuesday 23 January 2018

'Mr Aintree' leaves National legacy

'Ginger' McCain leads in Red Rum and jockey Brian Fletcher after the horse's
success in the 1974 Aintree Grand National
'Ginger' McCain leads in Red Rum and jockey Brian Fletcher after the horse's success in the 1974 Aintree Grand National

JA McGrath

Ginger McCain, the man they called 'Mr Aintree' who died yesterday two days before his 81st birthday, was just the sort of personality needed to lift the spirit of the Grand National, which had seemed on its last legs during the 1960s.

He and his beloved Red Rum proudly restored the race's reputation as the world's greatest steeplechase.

Ginger went on to train the winners of four Grand Nationals, and lived long enough to see his son Donald Jnr win the historic steeplechase for the first time in April with Ballabriggs.

Named Donald, but always Ginger to the legions who followed his amazing career, McCain was outrageously controversial, most times just for the sake of it.

But he was also a man with a deep-rooted love of Aintree and what it meant to the people of Liverpool.

He may have declared, "What would I know? I'm just a broken down old taxi driver from Southport," but the truth was that he was a wily old fox when it came to dealing in horses.

While champion trainers would have been searching for Cheltenham types, Ginger only had eyes for nimble, clever, spring-heeled jumpers.

Ginger McCain, who first applied for a training permit in 1952, could not have had more humble beginnings.

He set up his yard behind a used car showroom in Southport, and he would take his horses to gallop on the beach.

He drove taxis, and it was in this capacity that he first met Noel le Mare, a successful businessman, whose three objectives in life were to become a millionaire, to marry a beautiful woman, and to win the Grand National. It is said he achieved all three.

In the eyes of many of that era, the 1973 Grand National, in which the courageous, tearaway leader Crisp was caught in the last few strides by Red Rum, was the greatest race ever run over the National fences. They knocked 19 seconds off the course record, with 'Rummy' sailing past his leg-weary opponent in the shadows of the winning post.

When McCain bought Red Rum it was the start of a spell in the limelight decades long. Red Rum was a phenomenon at Aintree. He even won a seller on the Flat there, ridden by Lester Piggott, much earlier in his career.

The fact that the rangy gelding was able to dominate the race for five consecutive years is emphatic evidence of his prowess. 'Rummy' won the race three times, and he finished second in his other two attempts. He was box-office material, and Ginger was ready to capitalise in terms of fame and money.

There was a memorable segment on BBC TV's Sports Personality of the Year when Tommy Stack, who rode the gelding to victory in the 1977 Grand National, was in a television studio in Ireland, with Red Rum in another studio in front of a packed audience in London.

When Stack spoke to 'Rummy', via something that was cutting-edge technology at the time, the great horse's ears pricked.

Ginger knew how popular Red Rum had become in the eyes of the public. He took him to open betting shops, local fetes, and he made personal appearances at a variety of functions. Ginger had the good fortune to secure the greatest Aintree horse of them all, a freak over the big fences, a charismatic equine of sublime ability in that unique type of test

He knew he was lucky, but he also wanted to prove that he was not just a 'one-horse trainer'.

When he bought Amberleigh House from Ireland, he was shocked when the horse box turned up in his yard and out stepped a small animal little bigger than a pony.

But with painstaking preparation and pig-headed determination, he made the little horse into a lion-hearted jumper, who gave jockey Graham Lee his greatest win in 2004. Ginger retired in 2006, but he was never one to sit quietly on the sidelines. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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