Have you ever been surprisingly emotional about the death of someone you never met, let alone knew? Someone you didn’t even realise was a hero of yours?
I was taken aback by the pang I felt upon hearing Ginger McCain had died yesterday. Who? McCain was the beloved trainer of the most legendary horse in the Grand National’s long history, the three-time winner (1973, ’74, ’77): Red Rum. I was never obsessed with horse-racing, and the jumps left me cold – with the exception of Red Rum. Like much of the nation he was probably the only jumper I could name. I too got caught up in the romance of his story despite the Grand National being the only steeplechase I ever watched.
McCain also trained Amberleigh House to National victory (2004), and lived to see his son Donald Jr train this year’s race-winner: Ballabriggs. He created a dynasty, but racing wasn’t in his genes. He was a taxi driver and used-car salesman who got the bug one year as a punter at the Canal Turn. He got a trainer permit, and had that Noel le Mare in the back of his cab, then the owner of Red Rum, a horse McCain soon acquired – and trained on Southport beach.
The race back then was under scrutiny; Aintree was threatened with development, attendances were down. The blunt-talking and bloody-minded McCain and the romance of the Red Rum story, with which the race was to become synonymous, put the National back in the first rank of sporting events. And the classic amateur made good, be-whatever-you-want- to-be, can’t-make-it-up element of the whole gloriously earthy fable touched a nerve among millions of people who did not actually know Ginger McCain.