As any regular readers will probably have noted, some weeks it is difficult to find something new or fresh to write about, whilst other weeks the topic hits you between the eyes and this is one such week.
The only topic worthy of any discussion is the passing of “Mr Aintree” Ginger McCain.
Of course in certain quarters there has been too much hyperbole. I have seen his death described by more than one person as tragic. Whilst his passing is certainly sad it is by no means tragic. He had, as they say, a good innings and he passed away in his sleep after a mercifully short illness, just three days short of his 81st birthday.
It is strange but had it not been for Red Rum then, in all likelihood, McCain’s passing would probably have only warranted a paragraph or two in the Racing Post and it would not even have received a mention in the non-industry press.
Bu, of course, McCain was associated with the greatest horse in the history of the Grand National, indeed one of the best known horses in the history of the sport.
His record in the Grand National is unequalled, ran five, won three, second two. Think about it that is 22½ miles round Aintree jumping 150 of the Aintree fences and don’t forget the fences back in the 1970’s were even more daunting than they were now.
It has to be remembered that Red Rum was considered by many to be the villain when he won his first National. Beating the long time leader Crisp in the closing stages. A race often replayed and even 38 years later most of those watching the race again are willing Crisp over the line in front.
But it wasn’t to be and the rest, as they say, is history.
Of course McCain’s affection in the hearts and minds of the public was helped by the fact he wasn’t a big trainer with huge stables and a massive fortune in his own right.
He trained in a stables behind his car showroom in Southport, indeed he also had to “moonlight” as a taxi driver to help make ends meet. He had no purpose built gallops but he did have the natural all-weather gallops of Southport beach and it was on this beach he famously trained the great Rummy.
When he purchased Red Rum for owner Noel Le Mare he was found to be lame, Red Rum that is not Le Mare. However after an hour paddling in the sea the horse was sound, McCain believes due the minerals found in the sea water.
McCain was a blunt speaking Northerner and he believes that is why owners were not queuing up to send runner to him. As he admitted himself, “I wasn’t any good at kissing bottoms or bullshit.”
He was a man who spoke his mind and he didn’t mind being controversial although as is often the case some of the more controversial comments were made to provoke a reaction.
As he often admitted he loved baiting journalists, especially those who had not done their homework.
One of his more controversial outbursts surrounded the participation of Carrie Ford in the 2005 Grand National where he made an outspoken outburst about her participation in the race and that he would bare his buttocks if Ford ran. Probably the most controversial comment he made at the time was “Carrie is a fine lass but she’s a broodmare now and having kids does not get you fit to ride Grand Nationals.”
The “spat” bought priceless publicity for the race and on the day, even though she did not win, Ford had the last laugh by finishing fifth on Forrest Gunner, beating McCain’s Amberleigh House who only finished tenth.
What most did not realise, however, is the Fords were, indeed are, great family friends of the McCain’s and the spat was actually set up to generate extra publicity and add extra spice to the 2005 contest.
Of course Amberleigh House was also the horse that demonstrated McCain was not a one trick trainer in terms of the Grand Nation as he provided him with his fourth win in the race in 2004.
Following his retirement in 2007 his son Donald Jnr took up the training licence and went on to prove that McCain could not only train Grand National winning horses he could also sire a Grand National winning trainer as well.
Although he would never admit such a thing publicly, I have little doubt that McCain senior had as much pride and sense of achievement when young Donald trained Ballabriggs to win the 2011 Grand National as he ever did with any of Red Rum’s victories.
The term “character” is bandied about all too frequently and is often used in a derogatory sense.
With McCain it is true to say he was a character in every positive sense of the word. He was the sort of man we British love, the underdog going on to achieve great achievements, seemingly against all the odds.
A man not afraid to speak his mind, not afraid to court controversy but at the same time a man not afraid to stick his tongue firmly in his cheek – indeed a wind-up merchant of the first order.
For him political correctness was an anathema, although he would undoubtedly have stated that point far more strongly.
Despite the bluntness McCain was also self-depreciating never taking himself too seriously – well most of the time not.
He did care very deeply about Aintree and especially his beloved Grand National. He was deeply scornful of the changes which he viewed as emasculating the race – he famously said “they don’t cut 10,000 feet of the top of Everest to make it easier.”
He despised All Weather racing, calling it “an abomination” - so he cannot be all bad
When he was once described as a legend he retorted, “I’m no legend – I trained a legend”
Racing has lost one of its enduring and, yes, endearing characters. Aintree and Grand National day will never quite be the same. However racings loss pales into insignificance when you consider the loss to the McCain family – who have lost a husband, father and grandfather. A man who will be sadly missed but who will live on in their memories.
It’s up to Aintree now to ensure McCain is honoured appropriately. Somehow the John Smith’s Ginger McCain Grand National Steeplechase does have a certain ring to it.
I will leave the final words to McCain who said, “I wouldn’t want to become a doddery, slobbering, incontinent old man” – luckily for us all he did not and we can remember him for the great, once in a lifetime, character he was.