Ginger McCain's incredible journey

By Cornelius LysaghtBBC horse racing correspondent

Donald McCain - always known as Ginger - ate, drank and slept Aintree and the Grand National, so much so that when he was dubbed "Mr Aintree" during the glory years of Red Rum, it stuck.

More importantly, with their big, populist personalities, trainer and horse made a necessary contribution to reviving the flagging fortunes of the world's most famous horse race.

During the 1970s, there was much talk of Aintree closing and, consequently, the future of what was then a near 140-year Grand National heritage looked fragile to say the least.

It was into this picture that Red Rum and McCain, eyes twinkling and ready laugh never far away, entered and provided the race with a new impetus.

Since then, although there have been choppy waters, it has never really looked back, even though McCain regularly used his colourful style to say what he thought of the modern, less perilous course which he felt was dictated by loathsome "do-gooders".

Back in the 1960s and 70s, Ginger McCain was a taxi driver and car salesman based on the Lancashire coast, at Southport, only a few miles from Aintree. He trained a few horses behind the car lot.

Crucially, however, he drove around a wealthy businessman, Noel Le Mare, who agreed to let McCain buy him a racehorse for a price up to a not inconsiderable £7,000, and Red Rum was purchased at Doncaster Sales.

Famously trained on the beach at Southport, the horse went on to become one of the greatest ever, winning three Grand Nationals and finishing second in two more.

To get to the line-up just once must be considered a feat, but it is nothing short of remarkable that McCain brought Red Rum back there so many times.

The horse, retired after being injured on the eve of the big race in 1978, absolutely adored Aintree, bounding around the place like it was a playground, his playground.

"Rummy", to millions, and the McCain family - wife Beryl played a big if long-suffering part too - became some of the most famous figures in Britain, and the horse did everything in retirement from appearing at supermarket openings to starring on TV.

He was eventually put down in 1995 aged 30, and buried at Aintree.

It took 27 frustrating years before McCain was back where you felt he belonged, in the Grand National winners' circle, when Amberleigh House gained the trainer an emotional, and record-equalling, fourth victory in 2004.

As always, at BBC Radio 5 live we wanted one of the winning team on air as quickly as possible after the race.

I'll never forget the pride at getting a microphone to the successful trainer just 27 seconds (the producer timed it) after the horse had passed the finishing line.

And that pleasure was only slightly tempered by the great man roaring characteristically on live radio: "It was f****** magic, cock."

Afterwards, unforgettably, he told us how he walked to Red Rum's grave for a chat after racing, and believed that the winner of 1973, 74 and 77 had opined: "Well done, cock, but that Amberleigh House has got to win a few more to get anywhere near me."

McCain was, of course, best known for Red Rum and Amberleigh House, but also for a catchy if invariably politically incorrect turn of phrase.

These were frequently devoured by the media.

There were passionate defences of the Grand National when required; famously, a distinct scepticism about female jockeys ("broodmares") riding at Aintree; and, lately, all sorts of banter at the expense of his son Donald.

McCain Jnr, who in 2006 took over the family training licence, now in Cheshire, has been phenomenally successful and this year himself trained the Grand National winner, Ballabriggs.

Ginger McCain was obviously frail, but afterwards we had all the usual talk: "He can train this boy, but he doesn't drink and he doesn't party - can he really be my son?"

However, the pride that April afternoon positively flowed off his 80-year-old shoulders.

How appropriate that the last Grand National he witnessed should have ended in that manner, and that the McCain family's Aintree baton had been handed on to such a safe pair of hands.