Red Rum’s trainer Ginger McCain dies at 80
Racing world pays tribute to one of its greatest and most successful characters
THE DEATH of Donald 'Ginger' McCain at the age of 80 marks the passing of one of National Hunt's greatest characters. As trainer of Red Rum, McCain won the Grand National three times and capped his career by scooping the Aintree steeplechase for a fourth time in 2004 with Amberleigh House.
The racing world has been quick to pay tribute to McCain (above left), who died of cancer early this morning. Mick Fitzgerald, a former jockey who won the National in 1996 on board Rough Quest, said: "Every time you think of the Grand National, you think of Ginger. He was the National, to be honest. If you ever wanted a colourful quote you spoke to Ginger."
McCain started his racing career in 1953, when he obtained his training permit, but found little success for the first couple of decades and was forced to make ends meet by working as a car salesman and taxi driver.
It was while driving that he met Noel le Mare, with whom he subsequently bought Red Rum. The horse had previously been a sprinter over the flat, but McCain saw something else in him and famously began training him on the beach at Southport.
Red Rum’s first triumph at Aintree, home of the National, came in 1973, when under jockey Brian Fletcher he snatched the prize from under the nose of Australian horse Crisp in the final run-in. It was achieved in a record-breaking time of just over nine minutes.
The following year he retained his crown, again under Fletcher, before bagging second place in 1975 and 1976. His final Aintree victory came in 1977, when he completed his hat trick at the age of 12 - considered too old before the race by many - by coming home 25 lengths clear of the field.
Red Rum was lined up for a record-breaking attempt at a fourth National in 1978, but he suffered a hairline fracture before the race and retired immediately from racing. The horse remained a national celebrity until his death in 1995 at the age of 30.
But arguably the trainer's greatest success came nine years later, when Amberleigh House came home the winner at Aintree under jockey Graham Lee. There was further success for the McCain clan this year when Ballabriggs, trained by his son Donald Jr, also won the steeplechase.
The impact that Red Rum and McCain had on British jumps racing cannot be over-exaggerated, according to the BBC's voice of racing, Peter O'Sullevan.
The National was going through a fallow period in the 1970s, and could have been abandoned. The romance that Red Rum sparked ensured that the world's greatest jumps race went from strength to strength. ·