The name of Donald “Ginger” McCain will, of course, always be synonymous with that of the legendary Red Rum, whom he trained to win the Grand National in 1973, 1974 and 1977. However, it should not be forgotten that, in 2004, 27 years after Red Rum galloped imperiously into the record books, McCain trained his fourth National winner, Amberleigh House, and became just the third trainer, after George Dockeray and Fred Rimmell, to do so.
McCain bought Amberleigh House, specifically as a National horse, for £75,000 in November, 2000, after watching him win the Emo Oil Handicap Chase, over 2 miles 4 furlongs, at Punchestown for Co. Limerick trainer Michael Hourigan the previous May. Amberleigh House made his debut in the Grand National, at 150/1, in April, 2001, and officially “chased leaders until badly hampered and brought down 8th (Canal Turn)”. However, McCain recalled the incident rather more vividly, saying, “The first time he went to Aintree he was hit sideways on by Paddy’s Return at the Canal Turn so he was at the bottom of the pile-up.”
Amberleigh House was balloted out of the Grand National in 2002, but returned in 2003 to finish a highly creditable third, beaten 14 lengths, behind Monty’s Pass. Afterwards McCain reportedly told his son, Donald Jnr., “All you’ve got to do is improve him 7lb”. Officially, Amberleigh House had only improved by 3lb by the time the Grand National rolled around again, but met his old rival Monty’s Pass on 11lb better terms than the previous year.
In any event, having been patiently ridden by Graham Lee, Amberleigh was left with plenty to do with three fences to jump, but made relentless progress in the last half a mile, eventually overhauling the wandering leader, and favourite, Clan Royal a hundred yards from the winning post and staying on to win by 3 lengths.
Amberleigh House ran in the National again in 2005, and 2006, with distinction, but Graham Lee later paid tribute to the little horse, saying, “I rode him in four Grand Nationals and he was brilliant. Although he only measured very, very small, when you showed him an Aintree fence he grew a hand. He thrived on those fences and that was before they got modified. He was a very special and brave little horse.”
The last word, though, is reserved for Ginger McCain, who told live radio listeners, “It was f****** magic, cock.”