Red Rum’s remarkable third Grand National triumph entranced a nation and etched his eternal top billing in the great race’s fabled history.
Among the millions forever caught in the moment 43 years ago was a six-year-old boy, gripped and overjoyed – without yet fully realising why – as he watched the commotion at Aintree on his grandmother’s television.
Donald McCain will be 50 in June, but still remembers shouting at the box in the corner of the living room, arms and legs in frantic encouragement on the edge of the settee – an involuntary action, which he would later come to know as ‘riding a finish’ – as Red Rum and Tommy Stack surged clear of Churchtown Boy.
Sir Peter O’Sullevan’s BBC commentary, as resonant in this blank National year of 2020 as it was back in those mists of time, played in the background as grandmother ticked off grandson in case his celebrations somehow made Red Rum fall over – which, of course, he never did.
It was only in the years to come that McCain could start to make proper sense of it all, piecing together that the cosseted animal housed in the stable closest of all to his Southport home, whose well-being dominated family life, was trained by his father Ginger to become not just a National hero but perhaps the world’s and certainly Britain’s most famous racehorse.
While his mother and father, and several thousand others, had important business to attend to at Aintree on Saturday April 2, 1977, young Donald was safely dropped off across town at his grandmother’s – and his childhood memory of what happened next is vivid.
“I was only six years old, but I remember shouting at the telly,” he said.
“I remember my grandmother telling me to ‘shut up, he might fall over’ – and he’d already jumped the last!”
Red Rum duly passed the post 25 lengths in front, at the age of 12 completing his remarkable National form figures of 11221 – spread over five successive years.
The conquering hero’s return to the McCain yard was the next eye-opener for the trainer’s son – who had far and away the best view in Southport as Merseyside turned out en masse again to hail its equine hero.
McCain would go on to help his father train a second National winner, with Amberleigh House the small matter of 27 years later, and then send out another in his own name thanks to Ballabriggs in 2011.
Red Rum was the peerless pioneer, though, and of course made an indelible impression.
“I remember him arriving home and looking out of my bedroom window, and the whole street was people on the roofs,” added McCain.
“The street was shut. It was like watching Liverpool returning with a Champions League trophy.”
Red Rum – ‘Rummy’ to his public, plain old ‘Red’ to the McCains – was as charismatic off the course as on it.
His fame therefore did not wane in retirement, quite the opposite in fact, and the attention was a constant – whether it be supermarket openings, future Grand National parades or art and crockery abundantly on sale in his image.
McCain, unsurprisingly, cannot recall a time ‘before Red Rum’.
“He was just part of the family – he was there,” he said.
“From as long I knew anything, the first stable outside the house was where ‘Red’ lived.
“You could never think anything other than Red Rum came first and foremost before anybody and anything – whatever was best for Red Rum was what happened, in business and in our lives.”
Everyone was captivated by the tale of the people’s champion who exercised on Southport Beach, owned by an ageing businessman in town and stabled behind the used-car showroom which accounted for Ginger’s other livelihood.
“My sister’s junior school, when she was there, visited the yard – and mine did as well,” said McCain.
“We went to school in Southport and Liverpool, and everybody knew about Red Rum, everybody knew who our dad was.
“Everyone wanted to talk to dad, and we’d be tagging along. People stopped him in the street – people stopped him everywhere.”
Ginger was delighted to oblige.
Some might perhaps have assigned his readiness to engage as evidence of the salesman’s patter doubtless needed elsewhere in his business interests.
It was simpler than that, though.
Red Rum’s trainer had all the time in the world for anyone who wanted to know about his National treasure.
Almost half a century has passed since the improbable story began, but McCain junior still delights as much in the personal-touch details as the centre-stage heroics
He said: “I remember one of dad’s best friends said one day ‘Your old man’s amazing, you know’.
“I said ‘why’s that?’ He said ‘every year at Aintree, in exactly the same spot, this lady – who had learning difficulties – would stop him and have exactly the same conversation as the year before’. He said ‘He always spends the time, to talk about it with her, never questions it’.
“That was dad. He was always happy to talk about Red Rum and spend time with people who wanted to know.”
Like father, like son.