Ginger McCain: Racing trainer who took Red Rum to an historic hat-trick of Grand National victories

Ginger McCain, who has died of cancer at the age of 80, saddled Red Rum to win the Grand National three times, in 1973, 1974 and 1977. But the hat-trick of victories was not simply a magnificent achievement in its own right: it arguably saved the race.

The 1970s had been troubled years for the National, which had been slipping in the public's affections. In 1965 Mirabel Topham had announced she was seeking a buyer for Aintree, but it wasn't until 1973 that the course was finally sold to the property developer Bill Davies, who tripled admission prices. The result was predictable: the attendance in 1975, the year of L'Escargot's victory, was the smallest in memory.

The bookmakers Ladbrokes then signed a seven-year agreement allowing them to manage the National. By then Red Rum had his first two wins in the bag, and as Mike Dillon, Ladbroke's PR director, put it: "When we were first involved you didn't have to be a genius to realise that Red Rum had become synonymous with the race and the horse had won the affection of a nation. From an early stage we wanted to make use of the horse when we could to raise the profile of the race and the meeting.

"Where we were really fortunate was that Ginger was so accommodating. Any request I made involving the horse, he greeted it with such great enthusiasm. He was fantastic to work with and it was obvious from an early stage that he would do everything in his power to save the National."

Born in 1931, McCain had dreamed of winning the Grand National since the age of eight, when he watched the legendary race from makeshift stands built on canal barges. He began his training career as a permit holder in 1953, taking out a full licence in 1969, when his stables were behind his car showroom in Southport. He had been training for 12 years before he sent out his first winner, San Lorenzo, in a selling chase at Aintree in January 1965.

In the early days he worked as a taxi driver to supplement his income – a fortuitous move, as it brought him into contact with Noel le Mare, a Lancashire construction engineer who also dreamed of winning the National. McCain bought Red Rum for Le Mare for 6,000 guineas. "I remember seeing him as a two-year-old at Liverpool but it was not until the Doncaster Sales in 1972 that I got him," McCain told The Independent in 1990. "From the start it was always going to be the National."

Before being bought by McCain, Red Rum had been stricken by the bone disease pedal osteitis, which should have meant retirement. Although he appeared to have recovered, in the 1972 Scottish Grand National, in which he finished fifth, he kept changing his legs in the closing stages. hanging towards the rails. McCain, though, watching, saw potential and bought him.

It turned out that Red Rum was going to the ideal place: McCain did his training on the beach at Southport, and the seawater worked miracles. Once he had Red Rum going through his paces on the sand, it was clear McCain had bagged an extraordinary horse. "He won his first five races for us on the bounce, going from 10st in the handicap to 12st and just kept on winning," McCain recalled. "It seemed so easy – he just went there and did it. Looking back I suppose we were cocky, a bit gassy and above ourselves, because he was the first decent horse I had ever got to handle. But we were a very small yard with one good horse and we just lived him for those years."

Following those early successes, on 31 March 1973, ridden by Brian Fletcher, Red Rum started joint favourite for the Grand National, putting in a thrilling finish to beat the brave front-runner, Crisp, by three-quarters of a length in what was then a record time. The following year he had four more victories, then won his second Grand National, again ridden by Fletcher, carrying the maximum weight of 12st. Giving a pound in weight to the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, L'Escargot, he started third favourite at 11/1, winning easily by seven lengths. Three weeks later Red Rum took the Scottish Grand National at Ayr.

L'Escargot gained revenge in the 1975 National, beating McCain's horse into second place. McCain, criticised for running Red Rum too often, resisted calls for him to retire the horse. When Fletcher had said he also feared the horse was "gone", McCain replaced him with Tommy Stack. But it seemed as though Fletcher might have been right: Red Rum finished sixth in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury and was beaten by Rag Trade in the 1976 National, again finishing second.

The 1977 season didn't start well; after a win at Carlisle, the horse's star seemed dimmed over the next four outings, and McCain began to wonder whether his critics had been correct. They weren't: again ridden by Stack, Red Rum tackled his fifth National. He was assisted greatly by Churchtown Boy's mistake at the second-last fence and won by 25 lengths. McCain took him back home to celebrate with some of his supporters. "The horse was invited into a hotel in Southport," Stack recalled. "He proceeded to walk up the steps and into the lobby for a drink." A statue of Red Rum was later put up in the town centre.

He was trained for a sixth attempt in 1978 as a 13-year-old, but on the day before he pulled up lame; a hairline fracture meant that this time there was no argument: the horse had to be retired. He had raced 100 times over jumps, winning 24 of them. He died aged 30 in 1995 and was buried by the Aintree winning post.

In 2004, 27 years after Red Rum's historic hat-trick, McCain tasted National success again, when Amberleigh House, ridden by Graham Lee, claimed victory by three lengths. At the age of 12, the horse, like Red Rum – and like his trainer – was by then a veteran, but that proved irrelevant as he made a late dash to catch Clan Royal, one of the four co-favourites. It brought back memories of 1973, when Red Rum had chased down the exhausted Crisp.

McCain was famously unafraid of speaking his mind, and courted controversy before the 2005 Grand National when he disparagingly assessed the chances of the female jockey Carrie Ford. "Horses do not win Nationals ridden by women," he counselled. Ford had taken the ride a few weeks after giving birth, and McCain went on: "Carrie is a grand lass, but she is a broodmare now and having kids does not get you fit to ride Grand Nationals."

Ford ended up guiding Forest Gunner to a creditable fifth place, well ahead of Amberleigh House. Yesterday she remembered McCain with fondness, saying, "I actually rode for Ginger a few times. Looking back at those comments, it was all very much tongue in cheek and in good humour."

McCain retired after the 2006 National, handing over the licence to his son Donald, who maintained the family tradition by winning this year's National with Ballabriggs from their base at Cholmondeley in Cheshire, to where the McCain's had moved in 1990 after 26 years in Southport.

In his often fiery manner, McCain had been critical of the great race in recent years, lamenting changes made to some of the fences on safety grounds. But the National's future seems secure – for which McCain and Red Rum must take a hefty slice of the credit.

Donald "Ginger" McCain, racing trainer: born 21 September 1930; married Beryl 1961 (one son, one daughter); died 19 September 2011.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam