McCain Mk II is filling the void left by the legendary Ginger
21:30 GMT, 4 April 2012
The delivery is less colourful and expletive-free but the sentiment could have issued from the lips of his famous father, Ginger.
Twelve-year-old daughter Abbie has just been beaten in both her first pony races. Donald McCain expresses both pride and satisfaction. Defeat is far more character- building.
‘I don’t think long-term it does you any harm having to struggle a bit,’ he says. ‘One of the best groundings for training a good horse is having a few bad ones.’
Pride and joy: Donald McCain, the son of legendary trainer 'Ginger', with 2011 National winner Ballabriggs
Ginger McCain would have felt the same. The Aintree legend, with his four Grand National victories, knew a bit about overcoming adversity, especially in the quiet years that followed three-time winner Red Rum.
Ginger’s death in September will leave a massive void on Saturday week on the stage he adored, 12 months after he stood in the winner’s enclosure delivering a trademark irreverent reaction to his proudest moment — success for his son courtesy of the Jason Maguire-ridden Ballabriggs.
The three-day Aintree meeting promises to be emotional for the McCain family, with widow Beryl unveiling Ginger’s statue a week on Thursday, a few yards from the one immortalising Red Rum.
But, if the John Smith’s Grand National has lost its greatest champion, it has not had to look far for his successor.
For Donald, who admits to a graveside apology when he could not muster a runner over the iconic fences at the track’s December fixture, the passion for the National burns just as brightly as his desire to protect it.
Gone but not forgotten: Ginger McCain beams as he stands with the Grand National trophy in 2004, and (below) with the last year's winner Ballabriggs
Changes have been made to three of the
fences and additional welfare measures introduced since the two deaths
which took the gloss off the victory of Ballabriggs, but Donald is
adamant that the sport must now be confident and resolute in defending
Pictures of an exhausted Ballabriggs being given oxygen that was not really needed after his victory were misinterpreted, Donald insists, as was the decision not to take the horse to the winner’s enclosure. Poor PR also left well-meaning actions looking chaotic.
Donald said: ‘We were told that for the future of the race, and to keep it safe, more changes had to be made but I don’t think what has been done will make a huge amount of difference.
‘I hope now we can draw a line in the sand and say, “This is the Grand National, leave it alone”. It’s the greatest test of a thoroughbred racehorse on the planet. It is not about class but toughness, durability, professionalism and heart.
High times: Ballabriggs in 2011
‘It is unfortunate Ballabriggs did not go
in the winner’s enclosure but the best thing for the horse was to get
him in the peace and quiet of the stable.’
Ginger would have said the same, only more stridently. He hated the interference in the race that flowed through his veins like the Mersey flows through its home city.
When Amberleigh House gave Ginger his fourth National in 2004, much of the credit went to Donald, his regular rider on the gallops. Winning last year, however, meant more than just his name etched on the trophy.
‘I love Aintree, I have grown up with it but you couldn’t describe what it meant to Dad. One of the satisfying things is knowing he got to see another Grand National winner come out of everything that he put together.’
That ‘everything’ is the most successful National Hunt stable north of the Trent, which captured two Cheltenham Festival wins this season and houses nearly 150 horses in Cheshire.
It is a metaphorical million miles from the cramped stable behind the Southport car lot where a six-year-old Donald watched from his bedroom window as Red Rum returned through crowded streets following his third win in 1977.
Ballabriggs, 11 years old and carrying 11st 9lb, will try to be the first horse since to win the National more than once. Bookmakers make him 14-1 after a fourth place at Kelso last month, in his only run since his big win, left some pundits disappointed. Not Donald.
‘It was the same when he was second in the same race and everyone was knocking him. I was thrilled with him and so was Jason.
Legend: Ginger on board the great Red Rum, who died in 1995
‘He thought he ran a better race than last year, and, with the exception of Synchronised (Cheltenham Gold Cup winner), I don’t think the National is as strong as last year.
‘What Dad always taught me is to prepare a horse for one day and that’s what I’m doing. It’s not about the week before or the week after. It’s about one day in April.’
And what a day it could be.
l TRAINER Nicky Henderson says Burton Port, fourth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, will miss the National to run in Thursday’s Betfred Bowl Chase as long as Ballabriggs makes the big race. Both are owned by Trevor Hemmings.