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Red Rum: The greatest Grand National racehorse of all time

Updated on December 12, 2013

When Red Rum and Tommy Stack came home alone in the 1977 Grand National, he established beyond all possible dispute his right to the title of the greatest chaser in Grand National history.

In five successive years he had jumped the course five times without making a single serious mistake. No other horse had ever won three Nationals, no other horse ever covered those 4 miles as fast as Red Rum did to beat Crisp in 1973.

Ever since he first went to Aintree in 1967, where he dead-heated in a two-year-old selling race, Red Rum always seemed to produce just that blend of cunning, foresight and agility that the great course demands.

From his humble beginnings as an unwanted racehorse he went on to become arguably the greatest horse to have set his hooves upon the most famous race in the world. The incredible story of Red Rum is moving, romantic and inspirational and much, much more.

Red Rum wins the 1977 Grand National
Red Rum wins the 1977 Grand National

Red Rum's path to National glory began with a lucky taxi ride. Donald 'Ginger' McCain, Rummy's trainer, had given up racing to set up a taxi and garage business in Southport in North West England.

As business improved, he started to dabble in racing again and having a good eye for a jumper was able to buy horses that had broken down or that other trainers did not want, and managed to win races with them.

One day, McCain's taxi was booked by a self-made millionaire, Noel le Mare. On the drive along the Lancashire coast, the conversation turned to horses, and by the end of the joumey, Mr. Le Mare had commissioned McCain to buy him a horse for the Liverpool Grand National.

McCain spotted Red Rum when he ran second in the Scottish Grand National and finally bought him on behalf of Noel le Mare for 6,000 guineas. With his only training facilities the sands at Southport, Ginger McCain set about preparing what was for him a very expensive horse.

Thirty-eight runners went to post in ideal conditions for the 1973Grand National, and the Fred Winter-trained, Richard Pitman-ridden Australian horse Crisp was top weight.

Red Rum, offered in the betting market at nine-to-one, was set to carry a National ‘featherweight’ of 10 stone 5 lbs.

Fred Winter’s charge Crisp made nearly all the running and on the second circuit he was still leading, and going at a tremendous pace. Going for the second last fence, Crisp was beginning to falter, and Brian Fletcher on Red Rum put on a spurt to catch up with him.

At the last fence it looked as if Crisp might still hang on, but the long run-in was too much for the big Australian gelding.

Calling on Red Rum’s still untapped reserves of stamina, Brian Fletcher and the eight-year-old hero of Southport stormed past Crisp, now barely cantering, to score Brian Fletcher`s second and Red Rum’s first Grand National win.

In 1974, Red Rum returned to Aintree but this time he had to carry a much heavier weight: top-weight of 12 stone. Many people, knowing about his ‘dodgy’ feet and the crushing burden of a big weight over the daunting National course, had doubts about his ability to win the race again, and the Irish challenger L’Escargot was made favourite.

But on the second circuit, having never put a foot wrong all the way round, Red Rum skipped safely over Becher’s Brook and he and Brian Fletcher went on to win with little difficulty.

Red Rum cools down after a Grand National win
Red Rum cools down after a Grand National win
Red Rum is exercised with other racehorses on the beach after he had retired
Red Rum is exercised with other racehorses on the beach after he had retired
The famous Red Rum statue at Aintree Racecourse
The famous Red Rum statue at Aintree Racecourse

In 1975, however L'Escargot turned the tables and prevented Red Rum from creating a National record by beating him into second place, a placing that Red Rum, this time in the hands of Tommy Stack, also had to accept in 1976.

The biggest crowd seen at Aintree for many years tumed out to watch the 42 runners as they went to post for the 1977 Grand National. This time it was Red Rum's age that would surely prevent him making history, said the pundits.

As the runners lined up, in light so crystal clear that the Canal Turn was visible from the stands, the thought occurred to some that such perfect conditions, so rare at Aintree, might after all produce an anti-climax and this is just what happened, for seven horses either fell or were brought dovm at the first fence.

Throughout the race Red Rum avoided the carnage, sidestepping at Becher’s to avoid a faller, jinking left at the Chair to avoid the falling Sage Merlin and accelerating past a loose horse at the Canal as they turned for home.

Skipping over the last few fences, Red Rum's relentless stamina drove the remainder of his rivals into the Liverpool turf and he galloped with his ears pricked towards the winning post.

Red Rum officially retired in 1979. He returned to Aintree for his 30th birthday amid emotional scenes of celebration. He died on October 18 1995 in the stable at Ginger McCain's yard and was buried in a special grave next to the winning post at Aintree.


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