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|Ginger McCain obituary
|One of racing's
great characters, he trained the Grand National legend Red Rum
Donald "Ginger" McCain, who has died at
the age of 80 after a short illness, established a permanent place in racing
history as trainer of Red Rum, the only horse to have won the Grand National
three times. The unlikely tale of how a horse with dodgy legs came into the
care of a man who combined racehorse training with a secondhand car business
the stables were tucked behind the car showroom on a busy street in
Southport, on the Lancashire coast is one of the sport's most romantic
In the early 1970s, McCain, then a trainer on a very small
scale, used to drive the elderly local businessman Noel le Mare to the Prince
of Wales hotel for the dinner-dance every Saturday, and they struck up a
friendship. Le Mare was desperate to own a Grand National winner, and put a few
horses in training with McCain. After mistakenly withdrawing Le Mare's horse
Glenkiln from the 1972 National, McCain paid 6,000 guineas at Doncaster sales
in August that year for a seven-year-old gelding. He had endured a tough racing
schedule from his two-year-old days onwards and had already been through the
hands of four trainers.
Red Rum had won on the flat as well as over
fences and hurdles, but his potential was severely compromised by his suffering
from pedalosteitis, a disease of the hoof. However, McCain exercised his string
on the vast Southport sands, and galloping through seawater worked wonders on
Red Rum's feet.
The horse started joint-favourite for the 1973 Grand
National, along with the brilliant Australian horse Crisp, who carried top
weight and conceded 23lb to Red Rum. In an extraordinary contest, Crisp built
up a gigantic lead, and with half a mile to go Red Rum was in remote pursuit.
Crisp still had a long lead at the final fence, but his stride shortened
dramatically on the run-in and Red Rum caught him a few yards from the winning
post to win by three-quarters of a length, demolishing the course record in the
Playing party-pooper to
one of the greatest Grand National performances did not endear Red Rum
nor his ebullient trainer to every racing enthusiast, but he returned to
Liverpool a year later and, this time carrying top weight himself, won again,
beating dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner L'Escargot to become the first dual
National winner since 1936.
Red Rum finished runner-up in the next two
Grand Nationals to L'Escargot in 1975 and Rag Trade in 1976 and
by then his trainer was well established as one of the great characters of the
sport. His verbal jousting with David Coleman and later Des Lynam during the
BBC television coverage became a traditional part of Grand National day.
When Red Rum lined up for his fifth consecutive National in 1977, no
horse had ever won the race three times, but McCain's now 12-year-old won with
ease, prompting commentator Peter O'Sullevan's famous call: "It's hats off and
a tremendous reception you've never heard one like it at Liverpool."
In 1978 an injury a few days before the race ruled Red Rum out of a
sixth National run and he was retired, but continued in the public eye as the
first racehorse to turn his celebrity to commercial use, opening betting shops
and making regular public appearances.
McCain was born in Southport and
first attended the Grand Natonal, 15 miles away at Aintree, at the age of nine.
"To a young boy," he wrote in his 2005 autobiography My Colourful Life, "it
seemed like the whole world had turned up."
His earliest experience
with horses came though driving horse-drawn floats for a local butcher, and,
after national service, he started with trainer Frank Speakman in Cheshire.
While working for a car hire company in Birkdale, he found himself driving the
likes of Frank Sinatra, Norman Wisdom and Margaret Rutherford and on one
occasion a fully grown lion, who sat salivating menacingly in the back of the
car while McCain drove the King of the Jungle and his handler from Southport to
McCain took out a licence to train racehorses as a "permit
holder" that is, a licence confined to horses owned by the trainer's
immediate family in February 1953, but had to wait until 1965 to send
out his first winner, San Lorenzo, in a steeplechase at Liverpool. He took out
a full licence in 1967. Surprisingly, the extraordinary achievements of Red Rum
did not lead to an influx of new owners with expensively bred horses into the
McCain yard, and helooked destined to be remembered for just the one horse.
But having moved his training operation from Southport to the
Cholmondeley estate in Cheshire in 1990, he sent out his fourth Grand National
winner, Amberleigh House, in 2004, a training feat matched only by Fred Rimell.
The family's success continued this year, when Ginger's son Donald Jr trained
the winner, Ballabriggs.
Ginger was well known for speaking his mind,
even if some of his attitudes appeared to be of the unreconstructed caveman
variety. One of the favourites for the 2005 contest was Forest Gunner, ridden
by trainer's wife Carrie Ford. When McCain was asked about her chances, he
replied: "Carrie is a grand lass, but she's a broodmare now, and having kids
does not get you fit to ride in Grand Nationals." Outrage followed, but McCain
was soon swathed again in the public affection which he so relished.
addition to Donald, he is survived by his wife Beryl and daughter Joanne.
Donald "Ginger" McCain, racehorse trainer, born 21 September
1930; died 19 September 2011