Red Rum wins the national for 3rd time

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Red Rum wins the national for 3rd time

Liverpool, Merseyside The 2nd of April 1977 AD

More than thirty years since his third and last Grand National triumph Red Rum remains the best known horse in British racing history, with perhaps only Arkle and Desert Orchid as rivals in the public imagination.

The horse’s career has entered into legend for the three Grand National wins, and indeed for the two second places he also managed. But Red Rum was not just a National horse (or the National horse as many would now claim).

Bred in Ireland as a sprinter, Red Rum had some precocious success on the flat, winning (dead heating) in his first race. But it was over the fences that his fame came. That this aspect of the horse’s career happened at all was remarkable.

Red Rum (named not for some exotic drink, but from the last three letters of his dam and sire’s names – Mared and Quorum respectively) was traded several times in his life, bought with great prescience by Yorkshire trainer Bobby Renton for Mrs Brotherton, who hoped to win the National again with Red Rum as she had in 1950 with Freebooter. But after some success over hurdles – three wins and five places out of ten starts – the horse was found to have a bone disease, pedalostitis, from which recovery was thought to be at best highly unlikely.

After intensive treatment the horse seemed to get through the problem, but after finishing a disappointing fifth in the 1972 Scottish Grand National (a race he was to win later in his career), showing signs during the race of favouring the afflicted foot, it was decided to sell him.

Thus trainer Anthony Gillan took the horse to auction at Doncaster . Gillan, who had taken over from Tommy Stack when the latter found a dual jockey-trainer role impossible having briefly taken on Renton’s yard, was keen to buy Red Rum either for another owner or as part of a syndicate. But the trainer who was to make his name with Red Rum, Ginger McCain, bought him with a flourish at auction on behalf of millionaire owner Noel Le Mare, then 84. McCain’s bold bidding, raising the price by 1,000 guineas at a stroke to 6,000, put the other bidders off, and the horse was secured.

It was serendipitous that Red Rum should have gone to McCain’s Southport stable, where the part-time taxi-driver ran his horses on the sand. It is thought that seawater and the benefits of running on sand cured the horse of his pedalostitis. Vets later would not believe he had ever had it, in spite of x-ray evidence. Rummy won his first five races for McCain, and was seen as something of a phenomenon, starting his first Grand National in 1973 as 9/1 favourite.

This race was won with a finish that is repeated time and again on TV, the giant Crisp entering the run-in with a huge 15 or 16 length lead that Red Rum and jockey Brian Fletcher inexorably reduced, until at the line he won by three-quarters of a length in a then record time, reducing the mark by about 20 seconds, a huge difference in a nine minute race.

Although he had won the previous year, and in spite – or perhaps because of – several victories before the National in 1974, Red Rum started as only third favourite, but he and Fletcher won with ease even though carrying far more weight than in 1973. Less than a month later the horse took the Scottish version of the race, undeterred by top weight and favouritism.

Two second places in the National followed in 1975 and 1976, the latter race being very close, Rag Trade gallantly resisting the seemingly indefatigable Red Rum, now partnered by Tommy Stack who had briefly trained the horse years ago.

In 1977 bad weather made McCain’s preparations of the horse far from perfect, the sands being too soft for a horse that like firm ground. But after a brief flourish from Churchtown Boy Red Rum led the field home from eight fences out, the crowd at Aintree going completely bonkers as did the television commentators. Not only was Red Rum a great racehorse, he had become a national hero, appearing on TV, opening fetes, truly an integral part of British sporting history. It should be remembered that Red Rum was a 12-year-old when he won the race on April 2 1977.

McCain trained the horse again to try for a fourth win in 1978, but the day before the big race a hairline fracture was found, and McCain retired him. Red Rum lived another 17 years, often leading the parade before the National, and was buried at the winning post at Aintree, his death a national event in more ways than one.

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