Rag Trade is the horse that put off Red Rum’s third victory in the National for a further year. In winning the 1976 Grand National, Rag Trade gave trainer Fred Rimmell his fourth National victory; having previously won with E.S.B.(1956), Nicolaus Silver (1961) and Gay Trip (1970); and owner P.B. Raymond his second win at the race following his win with Ayala in 1963.
Sired in Ireland by Menelek out of The Rage, Rag Trade was bred by Ian Williams, the son of Evan who had won the National in 1937 on Royal Mail. Originally trained by George Fairbairn his track record wasn’t very good by the time he was nine years old, having won only two races, so he was sent to the sales in 1975, where he was bought for 18,000 guineas by celebrity hairstylist of the time Mr ‘Teasy Weasy’ Raymond.
Raymond sent him to be trained by Arthur Pitt, with the intention that he ride in the National, which was just two months away. He was to be ridden by up and coming jockey John Francombe and he entered at 18-1, but his lack of preparation was evident – he came home last of the ten finishers, of a field of thirty-one.
He quickly improved – three weeks after the National he won the Midlands Grand National at Uttoexeter. Raymond’s mind had already been made up though: Rag Trade was to be sent to Fred Rimmell’s Kinnersley stables.
Five successful races including the Welsh Grand National saw the chestnut gelding in top form as he returned to Aintree in 1976. Barona was the favourite at 7-1 but ‘Red Rum’ were still the buzz words as the 50,000 crowd anticipated another win from the horse who had already won the National twice, and come second in the three consecutive years.
Rag Trade, saddled by Rimmell’s stable jockey John Burke had odds of 14-1. Rag Trade was racing well and it was him and four other horses that were closely in contention for the lead coming up to the last fence. On going over, Red Rum landed down first and the crowd went crazy with excitement at the thought of his third win.
Rag Trade however had other ideas – he had landed only fractionally behind Red Rum and quickly and easily accelerated to gain a four length advantage of ‘Rummy’ who had an extra twelve pounds against him.
The secret of Rag Trades success? It definitely wasn’t his jumping ability, nor was he by any means graceful – in fact Francombe had stated that he was ‘the most horrible horse I’ve ever ridden’ while Mercy Rimmell, Fred’s wife and working partner described him as ‘a great big common horse who looked like a Suffolk Punch.’
He blundered through fences and was extremely clumsy… but he had such power that any negatives were quickly outweighed. He didn’t return to the National the following year following an acrimonious break-up of the ownership partnership (he had been part-owned by Bill Lawrie and Herbert Keen, as well as Mr Raymond), and was returned to his original trainer.
On returning to the race in 1978, he was twelve years old and carried five pounds more, yet he had he was being ridden by Jonjo O’Neill, so was the 8-1 favourite. However he was pulled up lame before the second Becher’s, and had to be put down.