In the history of horse racing, few horses have captured the affection of the British public like Red Rum. The spirited horse rose from an early life of anonymity to become the only three-time Grand National winner. Today, three decades after his retirement, he is still one of the best-known and most beloved racehorses of all time.
The Early Years
Red Rum was born in County Kilkenny, Ireland in 1965. He was passed around to several owners before being purchased for Noel Le Mar. The agent who made the purchase was the now-legendary horse trainer Donald “Ginger” McCain.
It wasn’t apparent at the time, but Red Rum was saddled with a debilitating bone disease in his foot. For many horses (and many trainers) this would mean the end of a racing career before it even began. For Ginger and Red Rum, though, it was just an obstacle to greatness that had to be overcome.
Ginger McCain trained Red Rum in the sand and shallow waters at Southport in Merseyside. This routine is often said to be the reason that “Rummy” was able to overcome his disability and race on a world-class level.
Red Rum had a flat racing pedigree, making him more genetically suited to racing short, straight distances. However, Rummy’s true talent came out in steeplechases. His power, speed and jumping ability carried him to his first Grand National title in 1973. The very next year, Red Rum returned to take his second title. He was the first horse to take consecutive firsts since Reynoldstown in 1935-1936. Red Rum’s spirit and grace had already begun to charm the leagues of Grand National fans.
In the following two years, Red Rum lost out on the title, coming in second both times. When he returned in 1977 to try again, he was largely regarded as past his prime. He was 12 years old and not expected to place highly. He surprised sporting fans around the world when he came in a remarkable 25 lengths ahead of the nearest horse, taking his third Grand National win. To this day, Red Rum’s third win is known as one of the greatest moments in horse racing history.
Red Rum’s career included many wins other than his Grand National Victories. Most notably, he won the Scottish Grand National just three weeks after his 1973 Grand National win. To date, he is the only horse to have taken first in both races consecutively.
Retirement and Beyond
Red Rum was headed for the Grand National once again in 1978 but suffered a hairline fracture in one of his heels shortly before the race. He was retired soon after, but his public life and fame by no means diminished with the end of his career. Red Rum was a national celebrity by this time and traveled all over the country for various engagements. He often led pre-race parades at Aintree and was a popular guest at charity benefits and public events.
When Red Rum died on October 18, 1995, his remains were lovingly buried at the winning post at Aintree Racecourse. Ginger McCain, the trainer who led this remarkable horse to his life of victory, said that the burial place was perfect. He reported that he was comforted by the thought of all future winning horses would race past Red Rum on the way to their own victories.