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Red Rum – The Saviour of Aintree

Now universally accepted as “The Saviour of Aintree”, Red Rum was one of the most popular racehorses of the twentieth century, known to people all over the world, whether or not they were interested in racing.

He was foaled at 6pm on May 3rd 1965, a bay colt of average size, by Quorum out of Mared (hence the name taken from the last three letters of his sire and dam’s names). He was born at the Rossenarra Stud near Kells in County Kilkenny, Ireland and his breeding intended him to be a sprinter on the Flat, never a Grand National winner over steeplechase fences. The man who bred him was Martyn J McEnery.

As a yearling, Red Rum was sold for just 400 guineas to Maurice Kingsley, a Manchester manufacturer, and made his racecourse debut on April 7th 1967 … at Aintree, where he dead-heated for first place with a filly called Curlicue, in the Thursby Selling Plate, a flat race over five furlongs, when trained by Tim Molony and ridden by Paul Cook.

He subsequently passed through the hands of three more trainers but showed only modest promise and after a long losing run and foot problems, he was sold at Doncaster Sales in 1972 for 6,000 guineas to a Birkdale-based second hand car dealer and part-time taxi driver, Donald “Ginger” McCain, on behalf of Mr Noel Le Mare.

McCain stabled his horses in a small yard behind the car showroom and trained them on Southport sands. To his dismay Red Rum suddenly showed signs of lameness so instead of galloping with the rest of the string, he was sent paddling in the sea every day. The salt water worked a miracle and Red Rum was hardly ever lame again in his life.

The rest is history, as they say. Red Rum began winning races (five steeplechases within seven weeks) and started 9-1 joint favourite for the 1973 (March 31st) Grand National where he was ridden by Brian Fletcher, who had already won the big race on Red Alligator in 1968. He won in an exciting finish by three-quarters of a length from Crisp, both horses smashing the previous record time for the race by 19 seconds.

At this point in time, Aintree Racecourse’s fortunes were in stark contrast to those of Red Rum. The larger-than-life Mirabel Topham, who had run the place for many years, had been threatening for some time to sell the course for property development and every year a shadow hung over the race with the very real proposition that this would be the last Grand National. Consequently, Aintree was falling into disrepair and attendances were at an all-time low as the public chose to stay away. Only when they witnessed in 1973 this local hero winning “their” race did they start taking any notice again.

The following year Red Rum and Fletcher triumphed again (March 30th), carrying top weight of 12 stone and starting at 11-1. Next year (1975) he again shouldered 12 stone but was beaten by L’Escargot on ground softer than Red Rum liked. In 1976, again with top weight and this time ridden by Tommy Stack, he went down by just two lengths to the winner Rag Trade.

Back for a fifth time in 1977 (April 2nd), now 12 years old but still carrying top-weight and at a starting price of 9-1, Red Rum and Tommy Stack thrilled and astounded the racing world by winning an unprecedented third Grand National by a convincing 25 lengths. The crowds were back thanks entirely to his performances which had captivated a nation – everyone wanted to come to Aintree and see if “Rummy” could do the triple. Interest in the race from sponsors was renewed and Aintree’s fortunes took an upward swing when, finally in 1983 its future was secured and the racecourse bought by the Jockey Club.

Red Rum’s Grand National-winning record of three wins and two seconds is unlikely ever to be surpassed. He retired the following year (1978) and spent the rest of his life with Ginger McCain, first at his beloved Birkdale and later in Cheshire. He became a huge celebrity, travelling the country opening countless betting shops, supermarkets and garden fetes, switched on the Blackpool lights and appeared on BBC TV’s Sports Personality of the Year. He always behaved impeccably and particularly enjoyed returning to Aintree every year to lead the parade before the Grand National.

During his career, Red Rum was ridden by 24 different jockeys, jumped something like 1800 fences and covered close on 300 miles in his races.

A life-size bronze statue of him by Philip Blacker was unveiled at Aintree in 1988 by the Princess Royal and today stands proudly in what is known as the Red Rum Garden. On his 30th birthday in May 1995, he was a special guest at Aintree, the racecourse having provided a special carrot cake for the occasion. Red Rum turned his nose up at this, much preferring his favourite treat of Polo mints.

Red Rum died on 18 October 1995, aged 30. His death made the front pages of all the national newspapers and, in a survey eleven years later, he was still voted the best-known horse in Britain.

Red Rum was buried at the winning post at Aintree Racecourse, which is still a destination for his fans. The epitaph standing over his granite horseshoe-shaped headstone 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 evermore

RED RUM TIMELINE

1965: Is foaled at Rossenarra Stud, Co Kilkenny
1966: Is sold as a yearling for 400 guineas
1967: Makes racecourse debut, winning on the Flat at Aintree
1972: Is bought for 6,000 guineas at Doncaster Sales by Ginger McCain
1973: Wins his first Grand National, beating Crisp by three-quarters of a length
1974: Beats L’Escargot by seven lengths to win his second Grand National
1974: Wins Scottish Grand National by four lengths just three weeks later
1975: Is beaten by L’Escargot in the Grand National, carrying top weight of 12st
1976: Goes down by just two lengths to Rag Trade in the Grand National
1977: Returns to Aintree to win a record-breaking third Grand National by 25 lengths
1978: Retires from racing to enjoy a long retirement and countless public appearances
1995: Celebrates his 30th birthday on Aintree Racecourse

Written by Aintree’s Historian – Jane Clarke