Haydock’s role in Red Rum success

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It is 50-odd years since Ginger McCain began training horses from a tiny stable behind the showroom of his used car store in Southport and bought a £5,000 horse that turned out to have a bone disease.

It’s name? Red Rum.

The gallant jumper went on to become the most successful horse to race over Aintree’s daunting fences, winning the world’s greatest steeplechase three times, in 1973, 1974 and 1977.

Ginger was nicknamed ‘Mr Aintree’ for his record at the Liverpool track and went on to win a fourth Grand National with Amberleigh House in 2004.

But in the early 70s, with the Grand National facing an uncertain future, McCain and Red Rum were instrumental in saving the race at a period it was very much in peril.

“We were in danger of losing the Grand National, with the course up for sale, and I believe Red Rum and Dad played a big part in keeping it going,” said Ginger’s son Donald, who trained Grand National winner Ballabriggs in 2011.

“The year after Red Rum won it for the second time just 9,000 turned up at Aintree - and now millions watch it all around the world and they get record-breaking crowds.

“Red Rum’s story has become a legend, a sporting achievement that will always be remembered and it put the Grand National back on the sporting map again.

“It annoyed me a little bit that Dad didn’t get the credit he deserved with Red Rum.

“It didn’t bother him, though, that he was called a one-horse trainer.

“He used to say, ‘I may have been, but I made a flipping good job of it.”

McCain junior was only three when Red Rum won his first Grand National but wherever he goes today he is always asked about the great horse.

“He was just part of the family, and for as long as I can remember Red Rum was always there in his box outside the kitchen window,” he added.

“You almost took him for granted, but without him the course of our lives would have been very different.

“Red Rum shaped our destiny - and he was national hero for the rest of his life.”

Red Rum was even voted the BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 1977 and spent a long and happy retirement opening fetes and supermarkets.

After he died, at the ripe old age of 30, he was buried under the Grand National finishing post. McCain said that Haydock Park always played a key role in Red Rum’s success – using the Grand National Trial as his dress rehearsal for the Aintree Steeplechase.

“Dad would always say it was about one day only – The Grand National – but that Haydock was always a crucial but fair test for Red Rum, because that would be the last time he would run before Aintree.

“I think it was called the Greenall Whitley Gold Cup then, and Red Rum would always run in it.

“Red Rum won the race in 1975, before finishing second to L’Escargot in the Grand National that year.”

McCain junior followed in his father’s footsteps when he won the Grand National crown six years ago, and, poignantly, just months before the death of his father.

“It had been three years in the planning that day, and Ballabriggs was as tough as teak.

“He was a high-quality staying chaser, the type of horse that dad loved.

“I didn’t realise at the time how close it was to Dad not being there to see it, which over the years has made it even more special.”

Haydock Park Grand National Trial, Saturday, February 18. Tickets available from 0344 579 3006 or haydock.thejockeyclub.co.uk