The story of Red Rum is the fairy tale which transcended the boundary of sport. The horse who outshone Black Beauty to become a national treasure and an A-list celebrity. But it was an unpromising set of circumstances which resulted in the happiest of endings. A chance encounter between a second-hand car salesman and an octogenarian would lead to the greatest legend in the history of racing.
At the age of 18, Noel Le Mare was working as a fitter in Fleetwood when he set himself three ambitions: to become a millionaire, marry a beautiful girl, and win the Grand National. Having successfully achieved his first two ambitions, he was in his 80s and had all but given up on the third when he met a taxi driver who’d set himself up as a racehorse trainer.
Ginger McCain’s stables were behind his second-hand car showroom in Birkdale, the sands of Southport Beach offering the only space where he could exercise his horses. Ginger and Noel discovered a mutual love of horse racing, and a shared ambition to win the Grand National. As their friendship developed, Ginger tried to persuade Noel to buy a horse for him to train. Noel initially resisted but, after months of persuasion, he changed his mind and the dream of fulfilling his third ambition was rekindled. Ginger now had to find the ‘one good horse’ he’d always yearned for.
Bred to be a miler, not a staying chaser, Red Rum had clocked up above-average mileage on the racecourse as a flat racer when Ginger spotted him in the catalogue for the Doncaster sales. He’d watched him dead-heat over five furlongs at Aintree as a two year old. Ginger worked out that, based on the value of the races he’d won, he was already eligible for the Grand National. Adept around the sales ring after all the motor auctions he’d been to over the years, Ginger successfully bid for Red Rum and unknowingly sealed the best deal of his life.
But jubilation in the new purchase was short lived. In his first exercise session on the beach, Red Rum was found to be lame and was diagnosed with pedalostitis, a potentially career-ending foot disease. Remembering how he’d watched sea water cure the shrimpers’ broken-down horses as a boy, Ginger prescribed regular trips into the sea and the old remedy worked. Red Rum was sound and ready to race.
He won his first Grand National in 1973, reeling in the front running Crisp who had a 25 length lead at one point, only to be caught by ‘Rummy’ on the line. A year later he lined up again, this time carrying top weight, and became the first horse since 1936 to achieve a Grand National double. He was second in his appearance at Aintree in 1975 and 1976 and returned in 1977 with an incredible record of two wins and two seconds from four runs. Now at the age of 12, there were those who doubted whether he should be lining up at all. But they were about to eat their words. With a winning margin of 25 lengths, Red Rum sealed his place in history as the only horse to win the Grand National three times.
Retired on the eve of the 1978 Grand National due to an injury, he lived a long and happy retirement making frequent public appearances: racecourse parades, switching on the Blackpool Illuminations, opening supermarkets and betting shops, attending garden parties. He even appeared on the 1977 BBC Sports Review of the Year, taken up to the studio in a lift. As Ginger always said, he was a true professional.
Laid to rest at the winning post at Aintree after his death at the grand old age of 30, his epitaph reads:
Respect this place, this hallowed ground. A legend here his rest has found. His feet would fly, our spirits soar. He earned our love for ever more.
Video: Youtube – Channel4Racing