Donald McCain, more frequently referred to as ‘Ginger’ is a name that goes hand in hand with the Grand National. Ginger was the trainer of the legendary Red Rum, the most famous and greatest horse to have ever lived.
Red Rum won the National three times – 1973, 1974 and 1977, and then Ginger went on to triumph again 27 years later with Amberleigh House in 2004, and in doing so equalled Fred Rimell’s all-time record of four National winners.
Trainer of Red Rum who won the Grand National three times in 1973, 1974 and 1977
Born in September 1930, fifteen miles from the Aintree racecourse, Ginger inherited his love of horses from his grandfather who took him to his first Grand National in 1940. On leaving school at 13 his first job was driving a horse-drawn cart to deliver butter and bacon to local shops, and after two years National Service as a dispatch rider he worked as a stable boy and competed in point-to-points.
At 6ft 3in he was too tall to be a jockey so became a car sales man and a permit-holder with a yard behind his car showroom. His first winner was San Lorenzo at the 1952 Liverpool Christmas meeting. Ginger first cast eyes on Red Rum in 1967, who was then the dead-heat winner at Aintree of a Selling Plate for two year olds, but he could far from afford the 300 guineas which he had been bought for.
He saw him again when he was being ridden by Lestor Piggott in the 1968 National and again a year later when he finished second over hurdles. In the same year Ginger got his full training licence, but had only one winner in the first season and none in his second. His luck turned when he met Noel LeMare, a retired businessman who shared McCain’s dream of having a Grand National competitor, so on LeMare’s behalf Ginger bought Glenkiln for 1,000 guineas at the Doncaster sales.
Due to an administrative error McCain accidentally withdrew Glenkiln from the 1972 National, and so by way of insurance LeMare stipulated that McCain find a second horse to enter into the 1973 race. McCain couldn’t believe his luck when he discovered that the 6 year old Red Rum was in the Doncaster sales for 6,000 guineas. Under his fifth trainer Red Rum improved dramatically and within 7 months had won six of nine races, bringing in £29,646.
In winning the 1973 National he broke Golden Miller’s record by almost 19 seconds, and began a record-breaking run that stretched until 1977. Winning the 1974 National he was the first horse to achieve back-to-back National victory since Reynoldstown in 1936, and three weeks later he went on to win the Scottish Grand National. In the space of five years Red Rum he achieved the unparalleled National record of three wins and two second places, and in 1977 gained his third victory by 25 lengths.
Unfortunately McCain’s successes in the race were few and far between following his run with Red Rum who died aged 30, in 1995. Fifty years as a trainer had left him lacking in another National winner but in 2001 his luck changed with Amberleigh House, a 150-1 outsider who he had bought for £75,000 on behalf of multi-millionaire Halewood.
It was however the other horse that he put forward for the National, Hanakham, that McCain was more certain of, believing he had a great chance of success, and he scorned his 100-1 price. Only four horses completed the course that year, Hanakham fell at the second and Amberleigh House went down at the 15th fence.
McCain began to truly believe in Amberleigh House and in 2003 he was one of three horses that he entered for the National. Even though he wore a wisp of Red Rums mane in his headband he finished third.
Not so in 2004, when he had an emotional victory at the National at odds of 16-1. After the race the overwhelmed McCain said ‘He was foot-perfect. He’s a professional. He’s the best thing that has happened to me for a long, long time.’