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 Grand National at Aintree three times – 1973, 1974 and 1977. He also finished in second place in 1975 and 1976. Then Ginger went on to triumph again 27 years later with Amberleigh House in 2004. In doing so he 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
Ginger McCain was born in September 1930, fifteen miles from the Aintree racecourse. He 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. 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 he became a car salesman and a permit-holder with a yard behind his car showroom. His first winner was San Lorenzo at the 1952 Liverpool Christmas meeting.
Ginger McCain & Red Rum
Ginger first cast eyes on Red Rum in 1967, who was then the dead-heat winner at Aintree at a Selling Plate for two-year-olds. But he couldn’t afford the 300 guineas which he had been bought for.
He saw him again when he was being ridden by Lestor Piggott in 1968 and again a year later when he finished second over hurdles. In the same year, Ginger got his full training license 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. 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.
So off they all went to the 1973 Aintree Grand National. In winning it, Red Rum broke Golden Miller’s record by almost 19 seconds and began a record-breaking run that stretched until 1977.
By winning the 1974 National he was the first horse to achieve back-to-back National victory since Reynoldstown in 1936. 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.
Ginger McCain After Red Rum
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.
He was a 150-1 outsider that had been bought for £75,000 on behalf of multi-millionaire Halewood.
It was however another horse that he put forward for the National, Hanakham, that McCain was more certain of. McCain believed 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.’
After Horse Racing
Ginger McCain jointly holds the record for most wins by a trainer in the Grand National. He is in excellent company with George Dockeray and Fred Rimell with all three on four wins each.
His last National entries came in 2006 with Inca Trail, Ebony Light and Amberleigh House, none of which completed the race. Following that Ginger decided to retire and handed the yard over to his son Donald McCain Jnr.
In April 2011, Grand National success made its way to Bankhouse in Cheshire once again when Ballabriggs romped home for the McCains.
The then 80-year-old Ginger said: “It was very, very satisfying. I always thought I’d like to see him win a National, I never dreamed of seeing it, but he’s a very good trainer.”
Five months later, on September 19th 2011, Ginger McCain died from cancer, two days before his 81st birthday.
His memory, as one of the greatest Grand National trainers, will live on. A bronze statue of McCain is a permanent fixture at Aintree Racecourse. He will forever look down on the winning post where his victories unfolded.