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Tim Molony bought Red Rum as a yearling for 400 guineas in 1966 for owner Maurice Kingsley, with the intention of winning the two-year-old seller on the Flat at Liverpool the following March.
The horse duly obliged, dead-heating with Curlicue. Molony had to go to 300 guineas to buy back Red Rum at the auction which always follows selling races.
Donald ‘Ginger’ McCain was present at Aintree to witness the race and the sale, but he was seeking jump horses and he walked away before the bidding began for the horse that would bring him fame six years later.
Red Rum won twice more and was bought by Yorkshire trainer Bobby Renton on behalf of owner Lurline ‘Muffie’ Brotherton, for whom he had won the Grand National in 1950 with Freebooter.
When Renton retired, he asked Tommy Stack to take over. Stack juggled careers as a trainer and jockey for a few months before his friend, trainer Anthony Gillam, offered to step into the breach.
But disaster struck when Red Rum acquired the debilitating bone disease pedalosteitis, which should have rendered him unraceable. When three separate vets were told that the horse had suffered from that affliction after Red Rum’s triumph in the 1973 Grand National, they dismissed the idea as impossible. After a course of medicine and intense physiotherapy, Red Rum seemed to recover. But in the 1972 Scottish Grand National, in which he finished an excellent fifth, the horse kept changing his legs in the last three quarters of a mile, hanging unusually towards the rails.
McCain, a taxi driver who ran a small stable behind a used-car showroom in Southport, saw the race and noted Red Rum as a potential National horse for Noel Le Mare, for whom McCain often begged to be allowed to train
horses. It had long been Le Mare’s cherished ambition to own a Grand National winner which he was finally to achieve at the age of 85.
Mrs Brotherton sent Red Rum to Doncaster’s August Sales (1972), where McCain, emboldened by a pot of 7,000 guineas from Le Mare, paid 6,000 guineas for the gelding. But when he initially trotted the horse, Red Rum appeared lame.
Again fate stepped in: Red Rum was at probably the only yard in the country where the training took place on a beach. The sea water, into which McCain banished Red Rum after viewing the hobbling horse, worked an amazing transformation. Red Rum trotted out sound.
Immediately things began to fall right. Red Rum won his first five races for his new trainer, on ground varying from good to hard. On 31 March, 1973, he started joint-favourite for the Grand National and got up close home to beat the gallant front-running Crisp by three quarters of a length in a then record time.
Red Rum was never better than in the 1973/74 season when he won four more races before collecting his second Grand National, this time carrying the maximum weight of 12st. Giving 1lb to the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, L’Escargot, Red Rum started third favourite at 11/1. He won easily by seven lengths when again partnered by Brian Fletcher. Only three weeks later, Red Rum took the Scottish Grand National.
Between the autumn of 1974 and spring of 1976, he ran in 18 chases, winning twice and being placed seven times. Red Rum failed to resist L’Escargot in the 1975 Grand National, coming second. McCain, bombarded with media criticism for running him too often, was called on to retire his stable star. But Red Rum showed good
form when sixth in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury and over four months later was worn down by Rag Trade in the 1976 Grand National, again finishing second with Stack taking over from Fletcher in the saddle.
The 1976/77 season began dismally. After an initial small win at Carlisle, Red Rum appeared lacklustre in his next four races, and even McCain began to think that he might have ‘gone’.
Red Rum finally showed something like his true form when sixth in his prep race to the 1977 Grand National, the Greenall Whitley Chase at Haydock. Then he dazzled McCain in his last gallop before Aintree. Again ridden by Stack, Red Rum tackled his fifth Grand National in 1977 and Churchtown Boy’s mistake at the second
last fence settled things in the former’s favour, winning by 25 lengths under 11st 8lb.
The phenomenal chaser was trained for a sixth attempt at the great race in 1978 as a 13-year-old, but on the day before he pulled up lame. The problem proved to be a hairline fracture and the horse had to be retired.
Red Rum died at the grand old age of 30 in 1995 and was buried by the Aintree winning post. His grave is marked by an engraved stone, listing his Grand National record. A lifesize bronze statue also commemorates this legendary horse, along with a race staged at the John Smith’s Grand National meeting.
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Allison is the Publisher of Eclipse Magazine. She loves going to the Races and is learning to bet (despite being officially the worst bettor in the History of the Universe), there’s a lot more to learn…