The Grand National is renowned for its grueling course and dramatic finishes, but few stories are as captivating as that of Red Rum and his jockeys. Red Rum, a horse celebrated for his incredible achievements, won the race three times: in 1973, 1974, and 1977.

Central to these victories were the skillful jockeys who guided him: Brian Fletcher and Tommy Stack.

Brian Fletcher: The Early Years

Brian Fletcher began his racing career at the young age of 16 with trainer Denys Smith. Born and raised in Cockfield, County Durham, Fletcher’s passion for horse racing started early. He had a pony before he had a bike and bought a horse and cart while still at Barnard Castle Grammar School to sell firewood door to door.

His early career saw significant success when, at the age of 19, he won his first Grand National on Red Alligator in 1968. This victory set the stage for his future accomplishments and established him as a promising jockey. In 1967, Fletcher rode Red Alligator to a third-place finish in the Grand National, demonstrating his potential early on.

1973 Grand National Victory

Fletcher’s journey with Red Rum began in the 1973 Grand National. After recovering from a serious skull fracture in 1972, Fletcher returned to racing with determination. His strategy for the race was simple: stay confident, avoid trouble on the first circuit, and push hard in the second.

The 1973 race was memorable, with Red Rum catching the tiring Crisp in the final strides to win. Fletcher’s skillful riding and strategic approach played a crucial role in this dramatic victory, setting a record time that stood for 17 years. This win was a testament to Fletcher’s resilience and ability to perform under pressure.

1974 Grand National Victory

In 1974, Fletcher and Red Rum returned to Aintree with high expectations. The pair did not disappoint. Fletcher once again executed his race strategy flawlessly, navigating the challenging course with precision. Red Rum’s second consecutive win in the Grand National solidified both horse and jockey as legends in the sport.

Fletcher considered winning the Scottish Grand National on Red Rum later that year as a highlight of his career, further showcasing their extraordinary partnership. This victory demonstrated their versatility and dominance in different racing conditions.

The Dispute and Aftermath

Despite their success, Fletcher’s partnership with Red Rum ended in 1976 after a disagreement with trainer Ginger McCain. The jockey claiming that the trainer had criticised his failure to use his whip when Red Rum finished a well-beaten third in a three-mile chase at Newcastle. Fletcher rode Eyecatcher in the 1976 Grand National, finishing third, and retired later that year.

After retiring, Fletcher moved to a farm near Bishop Auckland, where he bred Welsh Cobs and farmed sheep. He later moved to west Wales, continuing his passion for horses and farming. Fletcher passed away in 2017 at the age of 69, leaving behind a legacy of bravery and skill. His contributions to the racing world, particularly his victories with Red Rum, are remembered fondly by racing enthusiasts.

Tommy Stack: The Early Years

Tommy Stack, born on 15 November 1945 in Moyvane, County Kerry, Ireland, was already an accomplished jockey before joining Red Rum’s legacy. Stack’s early career was shaped by his experiences in England, where he moved in 1965 after being turned down by several trainers. He found a mentor in Bobby Renton, who gave him his first opportunities in racing.

National Hunt Champion Jockey

Stack’s career reached new heights when he became the National Hunt Champion Jockey for the 1974–75 and 1976-77 seasons. His achievements during this period showcased his skill and determination. Stack was a key figure in the racing community, respected for his professionalism and dedication.

1977 Grand National Victory

Stack’s partnership with Red Rum culminated in the 1977 Grand National. Riding Red Rum to his historic third victory, Stack’s calm demeanour and expert riding were key to this achievement, securing his place in racing history.

Carrying 11st 8lb and the hopes of the nation, Stack followed trainer Ginger McCain’s pre-race instructions: “to ride him like you always do, take your time and be in no hurry.” As 42 runners went to post, there was just one moment of minor alarm.

“Going down to Becher’s the second time, Andy Pandy was about six lengths in front of me,” Stack recalled. “I could hear the crowd roaring, but couldn’t see why. At Becher’s, I was halfway over when I saw Andy Pandy had fallen and I just missed him.”

Churchtown Boy, winner of the Topham Chase 48 hours previously, was still a menacing presence as Red Rum crossed the Melling Road and galloped towards the last two fences and racing immortality. “He (Churchtown Boy) hit the second-last hard and I knew from then he wasn’t a danger,” Stack said. “From then on, I knew he wouldn’t be beat, so I just kept him in the middle of the course.”

After the race, Red Rum was celebrated in grand style. Stack fondly recalled how Red Rum entered the ballroom of their hotel in Southport, unfazed by the crowd. The night was a fitting end to a remarkable day in racing history.

Tommy Stack’s Training Career

After his successful riding career, Stack transitioned to training. He trained at Golden, County Tipperary, and found success with horses like Tarascon (Irish 1000 Guineas) and Kostroma (Beverly D. Stakes). Stack survived a life-threatening viral infection in December 1998 but returned to achieve further international success with Myboycharlie (Prix Morny) and Alexander Tango (Garden City Stakes). He retired at the end of the 2016 flat racing season, passing on his training license to his son, James “Fozzy” Stack.

Red Rum and His Legacy

Red Rum’s career is one of the most remarkable in horse racing history. His three Grand National wins and two second-place finishes in the race demonstrate his extraordinary stamina and determination. The bond between Red Rum and his jockeys, especially Brian Fletcher and Tommy Stack, played a significant role in his success.

Red Rum, trained by Ginger McCain, was known for his resilience and ability to overcome physical challenges. McCain’s innovative training methods, including using the saltwater of Southport Beach, were crucial to maintaining Red Rum’s health and performance.

Conclusion

The stories of Brian Fletcher and Tommy Stack are integral to the legend of Red Rum. Their skill, determination, and strategic brilliance helped Red Rum achieve unprecedented success in the Grand National. As we remember these remarkable jockeys, we celebrate their contributions to one of the greatest stories in horse racing history.