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Red Rum: The Grand National's Greatest Ever Winner

POSTED ON: 29 March 2019

Britain loves an underdog. We also love a comeback hero. The story of Red Rum, the Grand National's greatest ever winner, has both elements - and so much more. Few human sporting champs stir as much nostalgia and respect as Red Rum does. So what made him so great? And why will we (almost certainly) never see his like again? Sport Photo Gallery takes a deep-dive into the life and times of the Nation's favourite racehorse...

Red Rum in Training

Red Rum: From Underdog to Champion

Let's start with Red Rum's underdog story, and yes we're resisting the urge to call it an under-horse story because, well, that doesn't mean anything. Born in Ireland in 1965, Red Rum was passed around from owner to owner - remarkable, knowing what we know now, that anyone would want rid of the horse that would win the Grand National three times. 

But what would Red Rum have been without legendary trainer Ginger McCain? McCain was the agent purchasing Red Rum on behalf of owner Noel Le Mar. The challenge McCain faced with his new horse was an incurable bone disease - Pedal Osteitis - which affected Red Rum's hoof. 

The image here - one of the most famous Red Rum pictures - shows off McCain's training method. Red Rum's bone disease meant that training was best done on the soft sands of the beaches of Southport. McCain is said to have taken Red Rum for therapeutic sea baths before each of his runs at the National. 

Red Rum was also an unlikely National champion given that he was bred for flat, short races. The Grand National - a handicap steeplechase of over four miles - couldn't be further from this type of racing. But the horse's incredible jumping ability (he didn't fall once in 100 races) made him a peculiarly confident steeplechaser. 

The first time 'Rummy' won the National - in 1973 - is often listed as one of the greatest editions of the historic race. Red Rum's victory required a remarkable fightback - he was 30 lengths behind the leading horse Crisp at one point, and 15 lengths behind at the final fence. Under jockey Brian Fletcher however, Red Rum ran bravely, pipping Crisp (who was joint favourite with McCain's horse at the start of the race) at the post.  

The following year, Red Rum - a little older and a little heavier - became the first horse to win back-to-back National victories for almost 40 years. Brian Fletcher again rode him to another famous victory. Added to which, 1974 is also the year he won the Scottish Grand National, just a few weeks later. Rummy is still the only horse to have done this in the same year. 

Red Rum wins Grand National in 1977

Red Rum: The Icon

The consecutive Grand National victories in 1973 and 1974 had all but cemented Red Rum's place in the annals of horse racing history, but he wasn't done yet. Jockey Brian Fletcher again paired with Rummy for the 1975 race, but the duo were denied a third consecutive victory by 1974's runner-up L'Escargot. 

Angered by comments Fletcher made to the press, Ginger McCain replaced him with jockey Tommy Stack for the 1976 race. Again, however, Red Rum finished as runner-up to Rag Trade, despite running a good race. 

After two years of just missing out, it was with a sense of inevitability that McCain, Stack and Red Rum returned for the 1977 race. This time they clinched it - a historic and unmatched third victory at the world's greatest horse race, and frequently voted among the greatest sporting moments of all time. The horse trained for a defense of his crown in 1978, but was retired the day before the race after suffering a hairline fracture. His retirement - unsurprisingly - was national news. 

But Rummy became something of a celebrity following his 1977 victory, and continued to make appearances around the country. He appeared on the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year awards in 1977, and also switched on the Blackpool Illuminations that year too. He even opened supermarkets! 

Red Rum's association with The National and Aintree was his most enduring however. For many years, Red Rum continued to lead the Grand National parade, and when he died in 1995 he was buried at the finishing post at Aintree. His grave is still frequently visited by well-wishers, and his epitaph there reads: "Respect this place, this hallowed ground, a legend here, his rest has found, his feet would fly, our spirits soar, he earned our love for evermore". 

Many racing pundits share the view of jockey Tony McCoy, who said in The Telegraph in 2011 on Ginger McCain's death that his and Red Rum's achievements "will never be equalled, let alone surpassed. They say records are there to be broken, but Red Rum’s at Aintree is one which will stand the test of time."

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Sed perspiciatis unde omnis iste natus errair