The Stables

The One and Only Red Rum

As a child, I remember sitting with my dad looking through the newspaper picking a horse in the Grand National. Choosing a name was the only method of picking a Grand National winner and I remember clearly choosing Red Rum. My dad then hot footed to the local betting shop to part with his cash with the hope of winning a few pounds back. Imagine my delight sitting watching with all my family back in 1977 on TV with a twisted metal ariel, watching this super horse gallop over the finishing line listening to the excited commentator! Red Rum was a star and a complete legend in my eyes where at the age of seven, my love for horses had truly begun.

Red Rum was bred at Rossenarra stud in Kells, County Kilkenny Ireland by Martyn McEnery. His sire was Quorum, who was by Vilmorin. His Dam was Mared, who was by Magic Red. The bay colt who was named for the combination of his dam and sire’s names was born on 3 May 1965. Although he was bred to win one-mile races, Red Rum won his National titles over the longest distance, four miles and four furlongs.

 When Red Rum was first sold, at auction in Dublin, he and his companion that day were sold for 400 guineas each. It is an amazing coincidence that the first race that Red Rum raced in, was at what was to become his favourite course, Aintree. On this occasion, he dead headed with Curlicue for first place in a two year old’s selling race run at a distance of 5 furlongs. Curlicue was the companion horse that he was with at the sales. 

In Red Rum’s 10 year career he had twenty four different jockeys. He also had five trainers but in that career, he managed to win 3 flat races, 3 hurdle races and also 21 Steeplechases. He was also placed 37 times so he must have taken all the changes in his stride. His obvious love of racing held him in good stead and it is worth saying that he never actually fell in a race although he once unseated his rider and once slipped up another coincidence was that both of these were at Haydock. In his early career, he was once ridden by Lester Piggott and comedian Lee Mack, then a stable boy who had his first riding lesson on Red Rum.

After being passed from training yard to training yard, he was eventually bought by Southport car dealer Ginger McCain for his client Noel le Mare. Red Rum, or Rummie as he was to be known suffered from foot problems and soon after Donald ( Ginger ) McCain got the horse he looked lame, however when he ran into the sea on a training gallop this seemed to help and this was the routine that Ginger kept him on and it stood him in good stead for the future. McCain famously trained Red Rum on the sands at Southport, Merseyside, England. McCain reportedly took Red Rum for a therapeutic swim in the sea off Southport before his first National appearance. Galloping through seawater may have proved highly beneficial to Red Rum’s feet. He had developed pedal osteitis, a debilitating incurable bone disease in his foot.  

While with Ginger McCain ‘Rummie’ went on to win some £146,409.80 for his owner Noel le Mare. His major wins were the Grand National (1973, 1974, 1977) an unmatched historic treble. He also won and the Scottish National (1974). He came second in the two intervening years. The world-famous steeplechase is a notoriously difficult race that has been referred to as being “the ultimate test of a horse’s courage. He was also renowned for his jumping ability, having not fallen in 100 races. Red Rum’s 1973 comeback victory from 30 lengths behind is often considered one of the greatest Grand Nationals in history.

Red Rum is the only horse in the history of the Grand National to win the race three times and on the two occasions that he ran and did not win he came second, but his race record is good under both flat and National hunt rules. In total Red Rum ran at Liverpool seven times, he won four and came second in the other three.

At the 1973 Grand National, Red Rum beat the Australian chaser Crisp, who was carrying 23 pounds more, in a new record time of nine minutes, 1.9 seconds. Crisp led the field virtually all the way some 30 lengths clear of his rivals. At the last fence, he was 15 lengths clear of Red Rum, his nearest pursuer. Red Rum and jockey Brian Fletcher, however, made up the ground on the final stretch and, two strides from the finishing post, pipped the tiring Crisp to win by three-quarters of a length in what is often considered one of the greatest Grand Nationals in history. Crisp’s jockey Richard Pitman later said: “I still dream about that race, of Crisp running so strongly and jumping so fearlessly, and then the sound of Red Rum’s hooves as he got closer and closer at the end.” He added: “I felt as though I was tied to a railway line with an express train thundering up and being unable to jump out of the way.”

A year later, Red Rum retained his title at the 1974 National, carrying 12 stone.

In both 1975 and 1976  Rummie was beaten on both occasions into second place. In 1975 he met the twice Gold Cup winner L’Escargot and had to give him 11lbs however he was still in front at the last.  However, the ground was very soft that day something Rummie hated. So the combination of giving weight and the soft ground he had to yield to L’Escargot. 

In 1976 he took on another good horse Rag Trade and having to carry top weight for the third successive year He was unable to give him the 12lbs and although never gave up and closed in on him up the straight he was again to come second.

In 1977 Red Rum was 12 years old and was again entered in the great race. His season by now was mapped out to give him the best chance in the national. Not many 12 year olds win the race and some of the racing pundits thought that this might have been a case of going to the well once too often but his trainer Ginger knew that the horse was in great form and was sure that the horse would not only give a good account of himself but, that he would win and he was to be proved correct. 

He was still having to carry top weight but at least this had gone down to 11st 8lbs. Rummie ran easily though out the race and took up the lead soon after Becher’s and went on gaining ground and finished the race winning by a remarkable 25 lengths to become a national hero.

“The crowd are willing him home now. The 12-year-old Red Rum, being preceded only by loose horses, being chased by Churchtown Boy… They’re coming to the elbow, just a furlong now between Red Rum and his third Grand National triumph! It’s hats off and a tremendous reception, you’ve never heard one like it at Liverpool… and Red Rum wins the National!

That was how commentator Peter O’Sullivan described the moment Red Rum sealed his third Grand National title.

Red Rum was prepared for a sixth attempt at the Grand National the season following his 1977 win at the age of 14, but suffered a hairline fracture the day before the 1978 race and was subsequently retired from the race. Ginger thought seriously that he would win if he had got him there. 

The following year at 15 he was entered again and was due to run until a few days before the race when he was again found to be lame and his connections had to finally come to terms that ‘ The Nations Favourite ‘ would not have another race and he was retired. 

So although 1977 was Rummie’s last appearance at Liverpool in the race, Red Rum led the parade in 1978. So Red Rum did go to Liverpool that day in 1978,  led the parade and so began his second life in which he was to be one of the biggest celebrities of his day. He returned to Liverpool on many occasions to lead the parade right up until his death on October 18th 1995 at an age of 30. 

In the early 1970s, the future running of the Grand National was uncertain.  The emergence of Red Rum and his historic triumphs captivated the nation, and ensured huge public support for the fund to buy Aintree and put it in the hands of the Jockey Club.

He always attracted a crowd at any opening ceremony that he attended.  He even made an appearance on the BBC Sports personality of the year award in 1977. Viewers were delighted when the horse recognised the voice of his jockey Tommy Stack, who was appearing by video link from another location.

He had become a national celebrity, opening supermarkets and annually leading the Grand National parade for many further years. His likeness graced playing cards, mugs, posters, models, paintings, plates and jigsaw puzzles. Several books have been written about Red Rum by his trainer, sculptor, jockeys and author Ivor Herbert; a children’s story about his life was also written by Christine Pemberton. The horse helped open the Steeplechase rollercoaster at Blackpool Pleasure Beach in 1977. He also switched on the Blackpool Illuminations in that year.  In 1975, a song entitled “Red Rum” was issued as a tribute to him by a group named Chaser, on Polydor 2058 564. It was written by Steve Jolley, Richard Palmer and Tony Swain. In 2010 the name of the racecourse bar, formerly called “The Sefton”, was changed to “The Red Rum”.

Red Rum’s feats, of three Nationals and two seconds, are legendary. They 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.

When Red Rum died on 18 October 1995, aged 30 his death made the front pages of national newspapers.

He was buried at the winning post of the Aintree Racecourse where a life sized statue stands and is still a destination for his fans. The epitaph 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 forevermore”. He was also given the honour of having his last resting place in one of his favourite places and today he lays buried with his head facing the winning post at the Aintree course. A memorial is also there for visitors to see and for then to remember one of Aintree’s greatest, Red Rum.

A smaller bronze statue resides inside Wayfarers Arcade, Southport. A race is run at Aintree in his name, the Red Rum Handicap Chase. Merseyrail has named one of their trains in Red Rum’s honour as part of a Merseyside Legends programme. Southport Fire Station took delivery of an engine they named Red Rum in 1979.  More than a decade after his death, a survey found he remained the best-known racehorse in the UK.

McCain also won the Grand National in 2004 with Amberleigh House, 31 years after his first victory with Red Rum. On 19 September 2011, Red Rum’s trainer Ginger McCain died aged 80.

by Samantha Hobden/Jacqui Broderick

Image sources: Wikimedia Commons