When Donald McCain pulled up in his taxi outside the Prince of Wales hotel in Southport one wet summer’s evening, he couldn’t have known that his next fare was about to change his life and make racing history.
Donald, also known as Ginger, had a used car sales business, driving the taxi to make some extra cash to fund his real passion, horseracing. He’d come a long way since driving horse-drawn floats for the local butcher and this early experience of horses had set him on a lifelong path.
He loved racing and back in 1953, aged 23, he applied for a training permit. He started to train horses in 1962 the year after he married and kept a small stables behind the showroom of his used-car lot.
But business was bad and he had a wife, Beryl, and two children, Joanne and Donald Junior, to think about.
For a while racing had to take a back seat as Ginger concentrated on selling used cars and picking up punters from the pub. Then, as business slowly picked-up he began to dabble in racing again and, with a keen eye for a jumper, began buying horses that had broken down or that other trainers had given up on – even managing to win a few races with them.
Ginger Meets Noel Le Mare
As he waited for his fare to come out of the hotel Ginger dreamed of winning the Grand National. It had been his ambition since the age of 9 when he’d first attended the race, 15 miles away at Aintree, and one day he was determined to train a horse that would do just that. But where would he find the money?
Eventually, the door of the Prince of Wales swung open and a single figure stepped onto the steps leading down to the wet pavement where Ginger waited in his taxi. It was a figure that Ginger knew by reputation but hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting until now. A well-dressed man, dapper in suit and tie, was leaving the dinner-dance that he attended most Saturday evenings.
Noel Le Mare had only three ambitions in life: to become a millionaire, to marry a beautiful woman and to own a Grand National winner. By this time he was well on his way to achieving two out of the three – his wife was a beauty and his construction business was going from strength to strength – all that remained was to realise his third.
As Ginger McCain drove Mr. Le Mare to his home at Waterloo Road the conversation turned to racing. It was a conversation that was to create one of the best-loved National winners in racing history and might even have saved Aintree from closure.
That was the first of many Saturday night dinner-dance fares for Ginger, after that first time Noel would always be sure to arrange for Ginger to meet him in his taxi and drive him to and from the Prince of Wales. A friendship sprang up, fuelled by their mutual love of racing and their shared Grand National Ambitions.
Ginger Discovers Red Rum
When Ginger spotted a horse in the 1972 Scottish Grand National he made a mental note to speak to Noel about him. The horse had come in fifth but Ginger’s eye for horses told him that this could be the National winner they were both looking for.
The horse was called Red Rum and, despite the horse having been diagnosed with the bone disease pedalositis, Ginger was determined to persuade Le Mare to buy him. He was overjoyed when Le Mare agreed. Ginger bought Red Rum on behalf of Noel for 6,000 guineas at the Doncaster Sales – a small fortune to McCain back then. Of course neither of them could have known just how incredible the horse was or that he would eventually go off as the firm favourite in the betting for many Grand Nationals to come.
But before the wins, the horse had to be trained. With nowhere else available McCain famously trained on the beach at Southport where the saltwater worked wonders for Red Rum’s feet. Red Rum went on to become one of the all-time-greats, winning three Grand Nationals and finishing second in two more.
When he lined up for his fifth consecutive National in 1977, no horse had ever won the race three times, but 12-year-old Rummy won with ease causing a frenzy in the stands and prompting commentator Peter O’Sullevan to scream: “It’s hats off and a tremendous reception – you’ve never heard one like it at Liverpool!”
After The National
Ginger McCain – ate, drank and slept Aintree and the Grand National; so much so that when he was nicknamed “Mr Aintree” and with his huge personality, amazing success and of course Red Rum, almost single-handedly revived the flagging fortunes of the world’s most famous horse race. He died in 2011 aged 80 only 2 days before his 81st birthday.
Red Rum retired after being injured on the eve of the big race in 1978 and died in 1995 aged 30. He is buried at Aintree.
Noel le Mare realised his final ambition to own a Grand National winner at the ripe old age of 84, making him one of the oldest owners to have a National winner.