Racing: 'Sometimes I think, don't be so bloody greedy. But, Jesus, I'd love to win it again'

The Interview - Ginger McCain: The 72-year-old trainer will never forget his National treasure. Nick Townsend hears he might just have another Aintree winner

On Grand National day, probably when the crowds have long since drifted away, this year's victor is being acclaimed with the partaking of alcohol by backers and owners alike, and Aintree returns once more to the bleak, unprepossessing arena within the industrial hinterland of Liverpool, Ginger McCain will wander over to the tombstone near the water jump. He will pay his respects, have a quiet moment with an old friend.

On Grand National day, probably when the crowds have long since drifted away, this year's victor is being acclaimed with the partaking of alcohol by backers and owners alike, and Aintree returns once more to the bleak, unprepossessing arena within the industrial hinterland of Liverpool, Ginger McCain will wander over to the tombstone near the water jump. He will pay his respects, have a quiet moment with an old friend.

Eight years on from Red Rum's death, 26 years since his third National triumph, it will be, as always, a poignant moment for the veteran trainer, who on a fateful day in August 1972 speculated an owner's 6,000 guineas at Doncaster Sales and acquired a horse who has become synonymous with courage and resilience.

"If I'm anything, I've only got there on the back of Red Rum," declares McCain, who is now 72. "It was a humbling experience being involved with him. He was bigger and better than people. And far more honest than people. And with far more guts than 99 per cent of the population. He never did anything without having to work bloody hard to do it." He pauses as the words catch in his throat before adding quietly: "Good luck to the old lad."

When I last visited McCain (Donald is his real name) over 12 years ago, the family was still based at the stables-behind-car-showroom yard in Southport, which has contributed so much mystique to the Red Rum story. "Red" was alive then, and enjoying his retirement, not just from racing, but from public appearances.

We gave him an outing to the beach on which he had been trained so successfully in his pomp and, such was the old horse's eagerness, with the scent of salt in his nostrils and the wind howling like a chorus of demons, his demeanour was anything but that of an OAP. It was all McCain could do to restrain his charge from flying across the sands.

The same year, McCain and family – wife Beryl, son Donald Jnr and daughter Joanne – together with Red Rum, decamped to south Cheshire, and the Cholmondeley Estate, where the gallops are overlooked by the 19th-century Gothic castle. It was here that Red Rum breathed his last before being laid to rest at Aintree, buried facing the winning post.

On Saturday, many will pay homage to him as the horse who brought about a renaissance of the daunting equine marathon. This year, McCain, whose epithet might now more appropriately be Chalky rather than Ginger, is blessed with a decent chance again in the National with the 11-year-old Amberleigh House. "Sometimes I think, 'Well, you've won your share, don't be so bloody greedy'. But, Jesus, I'd love to win another one," he enthuses. "Or another two. Or be involved with him [he nods at Donald Jnr] training a winner of it."

His son appears to have as much chance of assuming the administration of Bankhouse from his father as Charles has of the Queen relinquishing her reign in favour of him. "Eventually, I'll hand over to him, but where's the hurry? Maybe if Amberleigh House wins at Aintree I'll say, 'Well, that's me finished, he can have the licence'," says McCain Snr. "Equally, I may say, 'Well, I'll just train one more Grand National winner and then he can have the licence'. Trouble is, if we have to wait as long as we have since the last bugger, the lad's going to be a senior citizen."

Amberleigh House knows Aintree. He won the Becher Chase, run over three miles three furlongs of the National course, last season and was second in the race this term. "I ain't going to say we're going to win it, but I wouldn't swap his chances for any horse in the race," says McCain. "We've backed him at 50-1, which is crazy. He's a proven Liverpool horse, and he'll be ridden by one of the best young jockeys in the country in Graham Lee."

McCain has long complained about the "softening" of the Aintree fences, which followed a number of equine fatalities. These days his sense of indignation has been largely assuaged. "They had destroyed the character of the race but, to be fair to the Aintree management, the fences have been stiffened up a bit," says a man who can be, in equal measures, gruffly intolerant and genially generous.

It would be fair to say that McCain would never be seconded for membership of the liberal urban élite. He has scant approval for most women trainers (although his congenial wife of 42 years, Beryl, is his assistant), and has always listed shooting and coursing among his interests. As for the animal-rights protesters who contributed to the problems in 1993, when the National culminated in a "void" race, his response is typically forthright: "When all those silly do-gooders sat down in front of the horses, I wish [Keith] Brown [the starter] had let the field go. That may be hard, but who the hell do they think they are, depriving 700 million people of that spectacle?"

It was in 1965 that McCain saddled his first winner, in a selling chase at Liverpool, with a horse named San Lorenzo, aged 14. A decent horse in his day, he had been racing in Ireland but had apparently broken down. McCain offered to take him. "I was full of it. I couldn't wait to tell Beryl. We had just got married – she was secretary to the borough architect at the time – and we were basically skint. 'If that horse comes, I go', she told me. I said, 'You'd better set off down the road then, because he's on the boat'." Beryl stayed, so did the horse. A successful career, and marriage, was born.

In the early days, though, much of McCain's income derived from private car hire. His clients included many stars of stage and screen, travelling to engagements from Southport. They included Frank Sinatra. "I drove that bugger to Blackpool. Can't say I was ever that impressed with him; I was impressed even less when I didn't get a bloody tip."

When Red Rum entered McCain's life, aged seven, it was never anticipated that he would win a Grand National. "We just hoped he'd run in it." By the time the horse retired, he had triumphed in three Nationals, the second under top weight, and been runner-up twice. In total, he won 27 races. "What a character. To stick to it as long as he did," McCain says. "Remember, he had 12 seasons in training overall, from a two-year-old to a 13-year-old. And he had a hard life. He was ridden by 24 different jockeys, from Lester Piggott downwards, and every jockey that would hit a horse hit Red Rum. Yet it didn't turn him into a thief. He never flunked it, and he had some hidings, make no mistake."

McCain adds: "[Brian] Fletcher [twice victorious on Red Rum] not only hit him, he hit him in all the wrong places. The horse would come back with welts down under the soft part of his belly, in front of his stifle. We had many a word about it. I threatened to do Fletcher properly one day. I said, 'If you ever hit my horse there again, Brian, I'll bury you'."

Fortunately, you submit, such action would be severely punished today. "You'd be locked up for ever," says McCain. "But jockeys were harder then. It was a tougher game. It's all gone soft. I don't advocate flogging horses, but in a driving finish, you're not telling me that they don't run for the whip."

Red Rum always flourished on the Southport sands, a chronic leg condition being eased by the therapeutic effect of the sea. His regular passage from the stables was a much-celebrated local event during the Seventies. "He would always walk up the middle of the road, though sideways on. It was like a gunman coming out on to the street in the Wild West and bystanders scurrying to the sidewalk. The road just emptied," recalls McCain. "And he would never put a foot wrong. That's why he was such a good Liverpool horse.

"We had Red Rum for 23 years and he was very special in our lives. He was good for us, but we were very good for him as well. He wouldn't have lasted in a big yard. No question of that. The strange thing was, I never rode him until he retired and he became my hack. I honestly think there was a bond between us. I don't want to sound boastful, but I think he appreciated me more than any other rider who was on him. People say, 'But he was only a horse'. He was, but he was unique."

Like McCain. In a horseracing world where characters are a diminishing species, they certainly don't breed them like him any more. More's the pity.

Biography: Donald 'Ginger' McCain

Born: 21 September 1930.

First winner: At Aintree in 1965.

Best known for: Being the man behind Grand National legend Red Rum, three-time winner of the race (1973, 1974 and 1977) and second in 1975 and 1976.

How it happened: McCain was a taxi-driver who ran a small stable behind a used-car showroom in Southport. He saw Red Rum race and noted his National potential. Bought the horse at the 1972 August Sales for 6,000 guineas. The rest, as they say, is history.

Since Red Rum: Best National result is 14th. Only three of his runners have finished the course.

Sport
Brazilian fans watch the match for third place between Brazil and Netherlands
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: Dutch pile on the misery in third place playoff
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?