Amberleigh House 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.”

 

 

Corbiere Corbiere, apparently named after a Jersey lighthouse, had the distinction of being the first Grand National winner trained by a woman. Owned by Bryan Burrough and trained by the inimitable Jenny Pitman, Corbiere may have won the world famous steeplechase on his first attempt, as a eight-year-old, in 1983, but also finished third in 1984 and 1985, behind Hallo Dandy and Last Suspect, respectively, before falling at the fourth fence in 1986 and finishing twelfth, as a twelve-year-old, behind Maori Venture in 1987.

Ridden by Ben de Haan, as he was at Aintree, Corbiere had carried 10st 10lb to victory in the Welsh Grand National , run over 3 miles 5½ furlongs on bottomless going, at Chepstow the December before his first attempt in the National proper. He had subsequently won at Doncaster and finished second in the Ritz Club Trophy at the Cheltenham Festival so, even under 11st 4lb, appeared to have a live chance at Aintree.

On his favoured soft going, Corbiere jumped enthusiastically and raced prominently throughout. He disputed the lead with Hallo Dandy for much of the second circuit, but took a clear lead approaching the twenty-eighth of the thirty fences, at which point his nearest pursuers were the Irish challengers Yer Man, ridden by Val O’Connell, and Greasepaint, ridden by amateur Colin Magnier.

Corbiere led by 3 lengths jumping the final fence, but in the final hundred yards had to withstand a renewed effort from Greasepaint, who’d been under pressure for some way; Corbiere had just enough in reserve to hold on and win by three-quarters of a length. Yer Man finished third, a further two lengths away. Winning jockey Ben de Haan, aged just 23 at the time, later said of Mrs. Pitman, “She likes the job done properly and if it isn’t she doesn’t mind telling you.”

Red Rum Red Rum is not only the most famous Grand National winner of all time but, arguably, the most famous racehorse of all time. Unfashionably bred, but imaginatively named, being by Quorum out of Mared, Red Rum was, at one point in his career, an unremarkable sprinter, who suffered from a condition called ‘pedal osteitis’, which caused intermittent lameness. That was, of course, long before he was bought for 6,000 guineas by the late Donald ‘Ginger’ McCain on behalf of the late Noel Le Mare at Doncaster Sales in August,1972. The rest, as they say, is history.

Trained in Birkdale, near Southport, principally on a ‘gallop’, prepared by McCain himself on the nearby beach, Red Rum won his first five starts for his new connections. Consequently, on his first attempt in the National, in 1973, he was sent off 9/1 joint-favourite, alongside former Champion Chase winner Crisp, from whom he was receiving 23lb. Ridden by Richard Pitman, Crisp led the field a merry dance and was still about 15 lengths ahead jumping the final fence. Approaching the Elbow, though, the giant Australian ‘chaser started wander off a true line as Red Rum, ridden by Brian Fletcher, crept closer and closer. In the final, desperate run to the line, Red Rum overhauled the long-time leader to win by three-quarters of a length; in so doing, he smashed the previous course record, set by Reynoldstown in 1935.

Red Rum ran in the next four Grand Nationals, winning again – albeit in less dramatic fashion, but carrying top weight of twelve stone – under Fletcher in 1974 and finishing a highly creditable second to L’Escargot, under the same jockey, in 1975. He finished second again in 1976, under new jockey Tommy Stack, failing by 2 lengths to concede 12lb to Rag Trade but, in 1977, as a twelve-year-old, achieved Aintree immortality by sluicing clear of the field to win by 25 lengths and record an unprecedented third win.

Golden Miller Golden Miller has the distinction of being the only horse in the history of British racing to complete the Cheltenham Gold Cup-Grand National double in the same season. Owned by eccentric millionairess Dorothy Paget, trained by Basil Briscoe and ridden by Gerry Wilson, Golden Miller was, undoubtedly, the most famous steeplechaser of the interwar years. He had unseated previous jockey Ted Leader at the Canal Turn on the second circuit, when still in contention, on his only prior attempt over the National fences in 1933 but, fresh from his third consecutive win in the Cheltenham Gold Cup – just 17 days earlier – he started 8/1 second favourite for the 1934 Grand National.

 

 

Despite carrying the welter burden of 12st 2lb, Golden Miller got the better of a titanic struggle with the eventual second, Delaneige, who was receiving 10lb, throughout the final half mile, jumping the last upsides and striding away on the run-in to win by 5 lengths. In so doing, Golden Miller set a new course record of 9 min 20.4 sec, which would stand until smashed by Red Rum 39 years later. The Sporting Life of the day called him “The Finest Chaser of the Century”.

 

 

Golden Miller won the Cheltenham Gold Cup again in 1935 and, despite carrying top weight of 12st 7lb, was sent off the shortest-priced favourite in the history of the Grand National, at 2/1, to repeat his Aintree heroics. However, Golden Miller propped, as if trying to refuse, approaching the eleventh fence, which has a 6-foot wide ditch on the take-off side and, although he negotiated the obstacle, parted company with Gerry Wilson. Recriminations followed, with Basil Briscoe blaming Wilson for jumping off and Dorothy Paget blaming Briscoe for training her horse too hard. In any event, Wilson lost the ride on Golden Miller and Briscoe requested Paget remove all her horses from his yard shortly afterwards.

 

 

Wilson said later, “I’m convinced The Miller was frightened by what seemed like a mirror glinting in his face. Something startled him.” Certainly, Golden Miller refused at the same fence in 1936 and again in 1937, so his erstwhile jockey may have had a point.