McCain raises National defence


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The Independent Online

It rather comes under the heading "well, he would say that, wouldn't he?" But Donald McCain, the trainer of last year's Grand National winner Ballabriggs, is nonetheless robust and convincing in his defence of the Aintree marathon. And, like Mandy Rice-Davies, he most certainly speaks from experience.

Ballabriggs yesterday took pride of place at a media morning held to launch the countdown to this year's contest and discussion inevitably turned to his hard-won victory's controversial aftermath. McCain's late father, Ginger, might well have given questioners some of his trademark short shrift, but the son is more measured.

"I'd really have loved a few more people to have seen the horse the morning after the race," he said. "He came out of his box bouncing, with his ears pricked, not a hair turned, looking a million dollars. Yes, on the day he was tired, like any marathon runner at the end of a race. It was a desperately hot day and he'd given everything. But that's not something to be frowned on, he was a fit, healthy horse doing his job. He recovered quickly and the next morning looked outstanding."

The name McCain is, of course, part of National folklore; Ballabriggs followed the triple winner Red Rum and Amberleigh House, both under Ginger's care, on to the roll of honour. McCain was only six when Red Rum won for the third time, but was involved at the sharp end with Amberleigh House eight years ago.

"When he finished third he actually came in more tired than Ballabriggs did last year. But it was all out of sight, in the stables, and so there was no fuss. And he came back and won it the next year so, obviously, he too recovered."

Ginger, who died four months ago, is to be commemorated at Aintree with a bronze bust overlooking the parade ring, a permanent reminder of the National's most outspoken champion.

"It is the greatest race in the world, you don't have to be a genius to work that out," McCain said. "But those who don't like it, well, it's the same with any anti-anything, they hold views and won't change them. It's just a shame when the views are couched in ignorance, without any understanding.

"Horses can finish races tired, horses can get killed, horses can have accidents anywhere, not just at Aintree. In fact, the course is one of the most forward-thinking in the country when it comes to looking after horses.

"The changes that have been made to the fences since last year aren't going to make a huge difference to the race; it is what it is. I hope we can now draw a line in the sand because somewhere we have to stand up and say we believe in what we do."

Ballabriggs himself has not been seen on a track since last April; his season this time has been geared only towards another tilt at the £975,000 purse. Trevor Hemmings' 11-year-old will start fast work this week, with his final racecourse prep planned at Kelso in early March. He may be joined in the Kelso race by three other inmates of McCain's yard, Weird Al, Wymott and Fabalu. "I wouldn't be where I am now if it wasn't for the National," McCain said. "Winning has been wonderful, but taking part is almost as precious."

Turf account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Araucaria (3.10 Newbury) Last month's second try over fences was a huge improvement on her first and going back up in trip on better ground may bring further progress.

Next best

Grumeti (1.00 Newbury) An impressive hurdling debut sent his Triumph Hurdle odds tumbling. More of the same is expected.

Where the money's going

Somersby is the popular pick for each-way punters ahead of Saturday's Victor Chandler Chase, at 5-1 from 13-2 with Ladbrokes.