The man who trained the most celebrated steeplechaser in history was yesterday saluted by a sport united in sorrow and gratitude. Ginger McCain, who saddled Red Rum to win the Grand National three times, died two days before his 81st birthday. With no background in racing, he joined Fred Rimell as the only other trainer to collect four Nationals when Amberleigh House won in 2004.
Sir Peter O'Sullevan, whose commentaries remain indelibly associated with Red Rum's Aintree career, described the horse's record of three wins and two seconds as "the stuff of fiction". He added: "Ginger and the horse appeared absolutely at the right time, and were very much instrumental in saving the National when it was in peril."
Trevor Hemmings, owner of Ballabriggs, knew McCain for more than 40 years. "Legend is the correct word for Ginger," he said. "He was a remarkable man and, despite the way he represented his personality, very astute. If he was going to cause controversy, he'd know exactly what he was doing and why. It was so nice to have the character in racing that he was. Even if it had been someone else's horse, I'd still have been delighted that Donald was able to train a National winner when his father was able to see it."
Jenny Pitman, another great Aintree achiever, remembered him with unmistakable affection. The first woman to train a National winner said: "Ginger's words when Red Rum died come to mind: 'We'll miss the old bugger!' Ginger is just irreplaceable. We didn't always see eye to eye, but it was all done with good humour. He was a unique character, afraid of nothing."
Her former husband, Richard Pitman, introduced Red Rum to the racing public as something of a villain. Having gone clear on Crisp in 1973, he was caught in the final strides on the gallant top weight. "Legend is used quite widely – but Ginger was one," Pitman said. "He was bigger than life."
The Aintree management will be speaking to McCain's family about a suitable commemoration. For now Mick Channon, another trainer to transcend the sport's boundaries, provided one both succinct and fitting. "A proper bloke," Channon said. "He made people sit up, listen and smile."