As a Grand National winner and one of the most successful National Hunt trainers in the UK, Donald McCain is an incredibly busy man so when he took time out from his hectic schedule to sit down and have a chat with us, we were absolutely delighted, if not slightly star struck, and with the list of questions researched and compiled we set about getting to know the man behind such winners as Ballabriggs, Overturn, Cinders And Ashes, Peddlers Cross and Cloudy Lane, a little bit better.
With stable stars such as Ballabriggs, Weird Al and Cloudy lane having been retired at the end of the 2012/13 season, who do you see as capable of filling their shoes in 2013/14?
Admittedly, he noted, those shoes do take some filling but he is lucky enough to have some great young horses at the stables, such as Super Duty, Real Milan who he believes could do the job and go on to become great staying chasers.
Would any of them be earmarked for the 2014 Grand National and would Across The Bay be having another shot at the title come April 5th?
“Having Across The Bay at the Grand National was a dream come true for the owners who had always wanted a horse to run in the event and it was a huge thrill for them but Across The Bay fell away at the end not because he wasn't fit and well but because he has a tendency to sulk a little which is what happened. In an ideal world he would have another go but it is entirely up to his owners as to whether or not he gets another entry for 2014.”
And along with the potential entry for Across The Bay, Donald also hopes that Real Milan, Red Rocco and Super Duty, who is currently 33/1 ante-post with many of the UK's bookmakers, will also get a spot on the entry list in January.
With such a long season and so many races, how far in advance are plans made for the various horses in your charge?
“It's more difficult to create long term plans for the younger horses as you're still coming to terms with their abilities but as they get older that all changes and for something specific like the Grand National, that is more of a 12 month plan if all goes well.”
With the yard at Bankhouse having grown so much over the last couple of years, do the logistics of managing it all become increasingly difficult?
“As the business grows, and you get much busier you have to have very good people around and working for you to ensure it all runs smoothly and if you get that balance right then the size of the yard shouldn't be a problem.”
Though the Grand National was of particular interest to us, we were also very keen to get a general overview of the day-to-day aspects of Donald's job and how he sees the racing industry as a whole.
Unsurprisingly, though fully immersed in the racing industry, he doesn't actually get to sit back and enjoy racing as for the most part he's preoccupied with the work but he did say that Bangor-On-Dee racecourse was his favourite as it's local and he's had a lot of success and support there.
Speaking of support we spoke about the ability to be friends with other trainers despite the fact that they are also his biggest competitors and interestingly, Donald didn't see it that way stating that nearly all of his friends were in the job and that he had more friends in racing than outside of it, saying “It keeps you grounded.”
Speaking about racing in general I queried whether or not he had ever entertained the idea of travelling further afield similar to the way Willie Mullins has in France and Japan to which Donald conceded that he had thought about it on occasion but that it matters more to him to compete in the UK and though the prize money isn't an issue, race suitability for some of the horses is with some only being eligible for a hand full of races throughout the season.
And as for the future, Donald's ultimate aim as a trainer is to just continue and compete at this level, to maintain his record of winners and to keep enjoying his job and in the distant future, though there is no pressure, it would be great if any of his three children picked up the mantel as he did from his father, the incredible Ginger McCain. But as he says himself “It would be nice if they carried it on for a third generation but it's hard work.”
As for the best and worst parts of the job Donald said:
“The satisfaction of a plan coming together is definitely the best part. When you deal with owners hopes and dreams and you can make them a reality there's nothing better. On the downside any day you lose a horse is the worst feeling, you don't get use to it but these things do happen and you have to deal with that.”
As for his greatest moment as a trainer there was no question and no hesitation when he said “Winning the Grand National with Ballabriggs”. And to emphasise his love of the race even more when asked if he would rather win the Cheltenham Gold Cup or the Grand National he stated: “The Grand National every year, there's no choice, it's the greatest race in the world.”
We would sincerely like to thank Donald McCain for his generosity with his time and for answering all of our questions and we wish him all the best of luck with the upcoming season and in particular with the 2014 Grand National where we hope he will be successful again and bring another win back to Bankhouse Stables.