On the face of it, not much has changed at Bankhouse, the racing stable that is arguably the most interesting feature of the otherwise dull south Cheshire plain. The horses' rugs still bear the legend D McCain, Aintree is still foremost in the thoughts of the man holding the reins. The D now stands for Donald, though, and there's the difference.
Last season, with the succession imminent, the son had more input into proceedings in the yard than ever before, and the result was 35 winners, the best-ever seasonal tally for D-for-Ginger in his 37th and last season with a trainers' licence. This term, there are already 12 on the board, and twice as many prick-eared faces looking over doors as in the past.
One of them belongs to Inca Trail, the current embodiment of Grand National dreams in the McCain household. The brown gelding finished a creditable eighth in the race in April and is scheduled to have his second outing over the unique spruce fences on Sunday, in the Becher Chase. It will be his second visit to the course this season, having warmed up with a third place under Graham Lee to no less than Kauto Star 26 days ago over the conventional birch obstacles on the Mildmay course.
McCain, 36, grew up with tales of National derring-do - he was seven when Red Rum won for the third time - and in his jockey days completed the course in 17th place on Sure Metal 10 years ago. As his father's assistant he played a significant role in Amberleigh House's victory in 2004, after which the victorious owner, John Halewood, promised him another candidate.
Inca Trail was secured at the Doncaster sales in March, for 110,000gns. The 10-year-old's current home, at Cholmondeley, near Malpas, is his fourth, having previously been with Edward O'Grady, Henrietta Knight and Paul Nicholls, and in his travels he has developed his own ideas about his job - he has worn blinkers for the past two years and has earned the unflattering Timeform squiggle - but he seemed to take to the Liverpool challenge.
McCain seems confident that he will do so again, in the longer (three and a quarter miles) and more valuable (£100,000) of the two contests over the big fences on Sunday. "It will be great for me to train a winner at Aintree," he said yesterday, "more than anywhere else. We are Aintree people and Inca Trail was bought by his owner as an Aintree horse.
"We go there with a serious chance. He galloped all the way to the line behind Kauto Star last time, over two and a half miles. Graham said he would have finished second in another half furlong. When he ran in the National, Paul [Nicholls] said that he will either take to the fences or he won't. He jumped great and was cantering turning in."
The first winner officially under the fresh regime came when Bearaway scored at Newton Abbot in June and the new owners in the yard include another man with an Aintree obsession and an eye for talent, Trevor Hemmings. "He sent us six horses," McCain said, "which is a fantastic boost to a first-season trainer. We only ever had 35 horses in the past but we are up to nearly 80 now and getting to the stage where we might have to start turning some away."
As at a certain Devon stable, the former licence holder is now the assistant. "The most important lesson dad taught me," said McCain, "is not to take yourself too seriously. It's all about enjoying the horses. And it's great to see such nice ones coming up the gallops."
Inca Trail's rivals will include JP McManus's Aintree specialist Clan Royal, winner of a Becher Chase and placed in two Nationals. The Jonjo O'Neill-trained 11-year-old pleased in his work yesterday and will be ridden by Tony McCoy.
Last night a deputy for McCoy was still being sought to ride the reigning hurdles champion, Brave Inca, who makes his seasonal debut in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown. The eight-year-old's potential rivals were reduced by one yesterday; the prevailing heavy ground has ruled out Harchibald, whose Noel Meade stable will now be represented by Iktitaf.
Tomorrow at Haydock, on the first day of the North-West Masters promotion, Kauto Star, the favourite fir the King George VI Chase, will face five rivals in the Betfair Chase, his first try at three miles. Those taking him on include last year's one-two, Kingscliff and Beef Or Salmon, and Gold Cup fourth L'Ami, from France.
NB: Minella Tipperary
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