Donald (Ginger) McCain was born in Southport on 21st September 1930, he was given the nickname Ginger due to his red hair. However, years later, he would come to be known by another name, ‘Mr. Aintree’.
What’s remarkable about the partnership between Red Rum and Ginger is the fact that neither was expected to achieve success in racing.
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Red Rum had raced on the flat without any real success before switching to jumps. Ginger McCain was neither from an upper-class family nor a farmer, unlike most trainers in the United Kingdom. He worked as a taxi driver and sold cars from his small garage in Southport.
Ginger McCain and Red Rum – The Unexpected Partnership
So how did this odd couple manage to become racing’s greatest double act? The story really starts in 1953 when Ginger applied for an apprentice trainers licence. Since he was a boy, Ginger loved horses and the Grand National.
As a six-year-old, he ventured the few miles from Southport to Aintree and witnessed Bogskar winning the 1940 Grand National. Right there, his passion for racing was born, and he vowed to return to the course one day as a trainer.
12-Year Wait for a Winner
It took McCain 12 years to saddle up his first winner. San Lorenzo romped home at Aintree in January 1965 to give McCain a taste of the winner’s enclosure. From here on out, the number of winners he achieved each year continued to grow until 1969, when he acquired his full trainer’s licence – all while continuing to work as a taxi driver just to make ends meet.
While driving for a taxi, he had the chance to encounter many intriguing passengers. He once had Frank Sinatra in his cab, but it was a local businessman called Noel Le Mare who would change McCain’s life forever.
Noel and Ginger chatted about racing as they drove around, and the businessman confessed to harbouring a dream of owning a Grand National winner. Ginger suggested that he could look for a suitable horse for him. Noel accepted, and the rest, as they say, is history.
During the 1972 Scottish Grand National, Ginger noticed a promising horse who finished 5th in the race. The horse was called Red Rum, and the trainer thought he’d make the perfect match for Noel’s dream.
Ginger convinced Noel to pay 6000 guineas for the gelding. But when he initially trotted the horse, Red Rum appeared lame. He was suffering from pedal osteitis, a condition that would very likely end Red Rum’s racing career.
McCain devised a special routine for Rummie, gentle training sessions on the soft sand of Southport beach. The saltwater worked wonders, Red Rum was soon fit to race again.
Grand National 73, 74 & 77
By the spring of 1973, Red Rum was a different horse – fit and strong and ready to take on the famous Aintree fences.
Red Rum went into the race as the joint favourite with Australian heavyweight Crisp. At the 30th and final fence, Crisp had 15 length advantage over Red Rum. To everyone’s surprise, he began to close the distance on Crisp as they raced to the finishing post. Rummie won by a length, and the duo had their first major win.
Red Rum went on to win the race two more times – in 1974 and 1977. He also finished second in 1975 and 1976 and third in 1978, an incredible feat.
In 2004 Ginger McCain was back at Aintree with Amberleigh House. The horse had finished third in the 2003 National, and Ginger sensed he was primed to go one better.
After his last Grand National victory, Ginger proudly passed the baton to his son. In 2011 Ballabriggs secured yet another Grand National victory for the McCain family when son Donald Jnr trained the winner for owner Trevor Hemmings.
Ginger McCain had achieved his dream of training a Grand National winner – Red Rum – and ultimately passed on the racing passion to three generations of McCains. He will be forever remembered as one of racing’s greatest trainers and Red Rum as one of the greatest racehorses. He passed away on 19th September 2011 but will always be remembered as one of racing’s great characters. A statue of the great trainer was unveiled at the Aintree racecourse, where he and Red Rum enjoyed so much success.