From the greatest horse's mouth

BOOK OF THE WEEK; Red Rum: A Racing Legend by Ginger McCain (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, pounds 12.99)

Something strange will happen in the Grand National on Saturday. Red Rum will get passed. The great horse, who died last October aged 30, is buried at the winning post at Aintree, the course he graced in capturing three Grand Nationals in the 1970s. He is facing the right way.

In this book, the gelding's most celebrated trainer, Ginger McCain, chronicles the life of the horse who forced his way into the minds of more than just people dedicated to National Hunt racing. As McCain points out, much of Red Rum's charm was his ability to survive five Grand Nationals and 110 races. Red Rum's greatest skill was that he saved his best for the single race that drags the general public to their television sets.

After his first Grand National success, he went up the steps of the Bold Hotel in Lord Street, Southport, and down a red carpet into the ballroom to celebrate with the locals. The following day he went on a pub crawl (although not on his own).

This equanimity in the midst of human beings served Red Rum well after his racing days were over. An offer of $1m from the businessman, Rocky Aoki, who wanted the horse at the opening of his restaurants, was turned down and Red Rum is thought to have covered that figure and more as he provided his services at fetes and the opening of bookmakers' shops.

Red Rum exemplifies National Hunt's greatest strength: its potential to reward the little man as much as the wealthy barons of the sport. Like the gullible citizens of Troy before him, McCain's life was changed irrevocably by a single horse.

Ginger McCain was little known before he became Red Rum's fifth trainer and boarded him in the former brewery stables behind his used car business in Southport, and he has not done much since the horse retired. Yet it can be argued that, without him, Red Rum would have been just another horse.

McCain had noticed that when broken-down horses were put to work between the shafts of shrimping carts on the Southport sands, there were several unlikely recoveries. Red Rum himself suffered from the hoof-flaking disease, pedalosteitis, and it is believed his career would have been cut short had he not paddled so frequently in the salty waters of the Irish Sea.

This book is not the longest of reads, but the grouses that exist concern style elements. Each time a horse is mentioned the wording is in italics while, for some reason, weights and distances are given in metric as well imperial form. It is as if the publishers believe their product, unlike that of Britain's farmers, will soon be filling continental shelves.

There are some impressive photographs and a moving climax when McCain finds his old friend in a distressed state on Wednesday 15 October last year. The trainer put a last Polo mint in Red Rum's mouth and left his box. At 8.00pm a solitary shot rang out to end the most famous equine life of modern times.

Richard Edmondson

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