September 22, 2011

"THE ROAD JUST EMPTIED":

Ginger McCain: Ginger McCain, the racehorse trainer, who died yesterday aged 80, won three Grand Nationals with Red Rum and then, more than quarter of a century later, took the race for a fourth time with Amberleigh House (The Telegraph, 19 Sep 2011)

Famously plain-speaking, his comically exaggerated crimes against political correctness made for entertaining interviews. Within the racing world, however, McCain suspected that his failures when it came to "kissing bottoms and b[*****]ing" meant that he was never "considered a really good trainer".

If his "big mouth" was at fault, he was the first to accept that he only had himself to blame. "I've been hoist by my own petard many times," he mused. "But if I think a thing is not right, I have my say. I don't do it to offend. I just say it as I see it."

His unvarnished opinions resounded to most notorious effect in 2005, when he suggested that "horses do not win Nationals [when] ridden by women". Carrie Ford, who went on to finish fifth in that year's race, was, he said, "a broodmare".

In fact women in general were often the targets of his barbs, particularly if they dared step too far into his world. He dismissed one woman starter as a "silly cow with the hat and the skirt". But it was clear that, like his most famous horse, McCain liked to perform when in the limelight. When he remarked that "there are women I respect. I can't think of any, apart from the Queen, but there must be some," only the most determined to be offended took him seriously.

He was serious about his horses, however, and like to remind his detractors within racing that when he had got his hands on Red Rum in the August 1972 sales (for 6,000 guineas), the bay was a largely unfancied gelding with what a succession of vets considered an incurable bone disease - pedalostitis.

At the time McCain's prospects as a trainer were equally dim. He was making his living as a taxi-driver in Southport, where he kept a small stable between a used-car showroom and a Chinese restaurant. Having seen Red Rum run in the Scottish Grand National he convinced a client, Noel Le Mare, to take a chance on the horse.

He was already in Le Mare's debt: "As a taxi driver, I used to drive Noel Le Mare to a dinner-dance in Southport every Saturday night," McCain said. "We used to talk about the National and he said it was his great ambition to win it. His first National horse was Glenkiln, but I cocked up the entry and he couldn't run. Noel was then 85 and I thought I was a right pillock and he'd probably never live long enough to have another runner in the race."

Initially it seemed certain that, even if Le Mare lived to his 100th year, he would not see Red Rum at Aintree. The horse was increasingly lame. But McCain had an idea. "I used to see an old cripple of a horse pulling a cart for the shrimpers. He was a crock but when he went into the water he was a different horse. That stuck in my mind."

The trainer started exercising his new charge on the sands of Southport beach. More importantly, he let the horse frolic in the surf too. "It had taken me years to realise that I had the best natural all-weather gallop and the best swimming pool," McCain said. The combined training regimen had a miraculous effect, and soon the sight of Red Rum being led down the middle of the road to the beach became familiar in the coastal town: "He would always walk up the middle of the road, though sideways on. It was like a gunman coming out on to the street in the Wild West and bystanders scurrying to the sidewalk. The road just emptied."


Posted by at September 22, 2011 6:55 AM
  

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