The 339th edition of the Wayward Lad blog.
When the Grand National was floundering due to bad (not poor, plain bad) management and chronic under-investment in the early 1970’s, staring oblivion in the face; it required a unique combination of characters to save it. From stables hidden behind a garage in nearby Southport emerged a saviour and his protégé - Ginger McCain and Red Rum, a horse trained on the beach at low-tide, and perhaps the greatest jockey ever to ride the National course, Brian Fletcher.
I doubt many people under the age of 50 (60 even) today understand just how dire the situation was at Aintree, home of the greatest horserace on the planet: the Grand National. The last “development” at the track had occurred before the First World War and, like the ill-fated Titanic, Aintree was now (in 1973) captained by the inadequate Bill Davies of the Walton Group. He had purchased the course from the Topham family who had owned it for 125 years and it was no secret that his ultimate aim was to build a housing estate on the course. Aintree was on-course for its own iceberg. The attendance for Grand National day in 1973 was estimated at 5,000 (compare that with the estimated 100,000-plus at Aintree to watch in 2011).
And so the stage was set for perhaps the most dramatic Grand National of all time. Forget the pile-up at the 23rd fence in 1967. The Devon Loch incident of 1956 would be surpassed. The Grand National of 1973 featured the brilliance of the 2-mile globe-trotting New Zealand-bred chaser ‘Crisp’ with that of the rags-to-riches Red Rum.
Crisp knew only one way to run a race: boldly from the front at full pace, and so he did quickly establishing a 20+ length lead. Red Rum was a battler who was there for the long-haul, and he ran much of the 1st-circuit with the leaders of the following “peloton”. However, jumping the “Chair” before heading out for the 2nd circuit, jockey Brian Fletcher knew he had to go for it to have any chance of catching Crisp who was now probably 30-lengths ahead, full of running and jumping the fences like a stag. Watch a replay of the race and you will soon realise that Red Rum was galloping at full speed for the whole of the 2nd circuit, jumping fences with unnerving courage, and still not reducing the advantage held by Crisp.
It could not go on. After 4-miles the pace and the trip covered started to take its toll on the leader. Jumping the final fence, Crisp began to waver. To watch now is both heart-breaking and exhilarating. Crisp; a spent force struggling to hold a straight line. Red Rum; neck outstretched, galloping relentlessly on.
To the victor, the spoils! Red Rum, ridden by Brain Fletcher, trained by Ginger McCain were the names that went into the record books.
Despite being an outspoken chauvinist who was totally politically incorrect, McCain had the ability to keep Red Rum fit and well for another 4 attempts at the National. Because of his personality, McCain was almost certainly an embarrassment to “the establishment”. However, he managed to keep the National in the news, always prepared to comment on whatever developments took place and, for that; horseracing owes him a debt of gratitude.
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