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Red Rum

Red Rum

"The Aintree Legend", Aintree.co.uk

It was almost 30 years ago that Red Rum won the first of the three races in the Grand National that earned him pride of place in the record books forever. He still remains the only horse to have won the Grand National three times, in the world famous chase at Aintree and as that statistic suggests, the great horse was a phenomenon.

Bred to be a sprinter, out of a dam who was, frankly, a bit barmy, Red Rum went on to win the gruelling four and a half mile chase in 1973, 1974 and 1977, overcoming a potentially crippling foot disease.

He was sold for 400 Guineas as a yearling, yet an offer of Usd 1,000,000 was declined for him as a 13 year old, by which time Tommy Stack had every right to call him "The Aintree Horse". But the story of Red Rum's life is as strange as the best of fairytales.

Red Rum's achievements are the epitome of all that makes nature laugh in the face of man's attempts at playing God. Martyn McEnery wanted to breed an inexpensive, precocious, sprinting two year old, but instead the bemused County Kilkenny-based breeder produced the three times winner of the most arduous steeplechase in the world.

At his Rossenarra Stud, McEnery chose to mate his temperamental mare, Mared, with a local stallion called Quorum in the spring of 1964, for no better reason than friends of the family owned the sire.

Mared had previously been branded unraceable by trainer Phonnsie O'Brien who returned the excitable filly to McEnery as a two year old. But McEnery produced Mared to win a seven furlong race at Galway - her sole success in five starts - despite having to drench her with a bucket of water to remove the froth of sweat she worked up before even entering the parade ring.

First Entry Win

An average-sized bay colt was foaled on May 3, 1965, at 6 pm. A pleased McEnery expected to make a tidy profit when coming to sell him at Goffs September Sales, but fate again took a hand. The Mared colt appeared to walk stiffly behind when led into the ring to be sold, and when Tim Molony bid 400 Guineas, McEnery reluctantly allowed him to go.

Molony attended the sales armed with pinpoint instructions from Maurice Kingsley, for whom he had ridden the three times winner of the Champion Hurdle, Sir Ken. Now a trainer himself, Molony was to buy for Kingsley, who was fond of gambling on his horses, an animal to win the two year old seller at Liverpool the following March.

Red Rum duly obliged.Ridden by Paul Cook, he dead-heated with Curlicue, also bred by McEnery, and sold only two lots after Red Rum. In the closing stages Red Rum had made rapid strides to catch Curlicue right on the line, going in front a stride past the post, and Molony was convinced that, given less to do early on, Red Rum would have won outright. That day, Molony had to go to 300 Guineas to buy the juvenile back, the price being forced upwards from an unknown quarter.

Red Rum winning the 1977 Grand National

Donald "Ginger" McCain was present at Aintree to witness the subsequent sale, but he was seeking jumpers, not a sprinter, and he walked away from the horse that would bring him fame six years later, long before the bidding began.

Red Rum had been gelded after the sales and broken in patiently, with all the care that a great horseman such as Molony devotes to a young horse as a matter of course. Aged only 20 months, he had been named by Kingsley just before New Year's Day of 1967 when all yearlings officially became two year olds; his owner took the last three letters from the names of his dam and sire, Ma-red and Quorum, to produce the now-household name.

Extraordinary Resilience

Red Rum ran in that first selling race before he was fully two years of age and remained in training semi-constantly for the next 11 years. It is testimony to Red Rum's extraordinary resilience that, trained to draw on his supposed precocity but then asked to continue racing until he was 13, he never lost his enthusiasm. He was busy during his career, especially when his talents were not deemed to be extraordinary. Tommy Stack, who rode Red Rum 43 times and briefly trained him, thought him "disappointing" in his early days and often handled the horse accordingly in a race - "driven out", "hard ridden", Chaseform consistently reported.

Red Rum won again as a two year old and finished in the frame on three other occasions. But although he won on his three years old debut - a seven furlong selling handicap at doncaster - he incurred his owner's displeasure when Molony was again forced to bid higher than expected to buy him in afterwards.

After his next race, Molony was unexpectedly informed by the shrewd old Yorkshire trainer Bobby Renton that he had bought Red Rum on behalf of his close friend and owner, Mrs.Lurline "Muffie" Brotherton. She had been trying to win the Grand National again since 1950, when Renton sent out Freebooter in her colours, but she would sell Red Rum seven months short of realising that ambition.

As a novice hurdler, Red Rum won three times and finished in the frame on five other occasions out of a total of ten starts. To the benefit of Red Rum's future as one of the all-time great steeplechasers, Molony had been schooling him over hurdles since he had been broken in.

The horse also profited from a five-run sequence in which he was partnered by the same man, Paddy Broderick. On the flat, Red Rum was ridden by eight different jockeys; over obstacle, he was ridden by 13, including new ones on his first six runs.

McCain Enters Picture

Red Rum recorded all of his three wins that season partnered by Broderick and, crucially, on the fast ground which he relished. Molony had long guessed that the gelding hated soft ground, and would repeatedly berate Renton for making Red Rum tackle it the following season.

When an ageing Renton retired, he asked Tommy Stack to take over. Stack only juggled careers as trainer-jockey for a few months before his friend, nearby trainer Anthony Gillam, suggested that he fill the breach left when Stack handed in his training licence.

But disaster struck when Red Rum acquired the debilitating bone disease pedalositis, which should have rendered him a cripple. When three separate veterinary surgeons were told, after Red Rum's triumph in the 1973 Grand National, that the horse had suffered from that affliction, they dismissed the idea as impossible.

Aware of heat in Red Rum's off-fore after racing, but encouraged by Renton, among others, that it needed only minor treatment, an uncertain Gillam had kept the horse going on a busy campaign. When he came back a brave winner from Catterick on New Year's Day in 1972 - his fourth race in a month - Red Rum was lame for several days. X-rays brought the doleful news that very few horses recovered from pedalostitis.

After a course of medicine, along with intense physiotherapy, Red Rum seemed to recover. But in the 1972 Scottish Grand National, in which Red Rum finished fifth, the horse kept changing his legs in the last three-quarters of a mile, hanging unusually towards the rails, away from his damaged foot.

Taxi-driver Ginger McCain, who ran a small stable behind a used-car showroom in Southport, saw the race and noted Red Rum as a potential National horse for the 84 year old Noel Le Mare, for whom McCain often begged to be allowed to train horses.

Like Mrs.Brotherton, it had long been Le Mare's cherished ambition to own a Grand National winner. He was to achieve that at the age of 84, by which time he had achieved two other ambitions, to become a millionaire and marry a beautiful woman.

Lameness Solution

But where McCain saw potential, Mrs.Brotherton, after months of veterinary bills, saw only expense. She sent Red Rum to Doncaster's August Sales, much to the outrage of his stable lass sandra, who announced that she would then leave her job. When she was forbidden to accompany Red Rum to the sales for fear she would betray the horse's foot problem ( which the yard had managed to keep a secret ), sandra kept to her word, quitting her job to marry instead.

Red Rum on the beach, solving his lameness

Gillam still retained faith an damaged to persuade Mrs.Brotherton to raise the reserve on Red Rum from 3,000 to 5,000 Guineas, but plan B involved pooling his financial resources with some friends in order to buy the horse should someone else appear ready to offer more. Gillam then believed that he wouldn't lose Red Rum.

He had not reckoned upon the canny McCain. Emboldened by a pot of 7,000 Guineas from Le Mare, McCain stepped in at 5,000 Guineas when the duelling between Gillam and Captain Tim Forster, who thought Red Rum would be a "fun horse" for his owner Mrs.Henriques, had abated.Using a trick he learned at car auctions, McCain motioned a bid of 6,000 Guineas - a huge leap upwards, calculated to scare off the opposition. It worked, and McCain, who had never bought a horse for more than 1,000 Guineas, took control of the gelding who would later change his life.

But when he trotted the horse for the first time, McCain saw that Red Rum was lame. Yet again fate stepped in: Red Rum was at probably the only yard in the country where training took place on the local beach.

The sea water, into which McCain banished Red Rum after viewing his hobbling horse, cured him of all his ills. Red Rum trotted out sound. Immediately things began to fall right. Red Rum won his first five races, on ground varying from good to hard, with three different jockeys on board - Stack, Ron Barry and then Brian Fletcher -. On March 31, 1973, he started 9/1 favourite for the Grand National.

First National Victory

McCain gave Fletcher, with whom he now had a gentleman's agreement to ride the horse, no instructions, but the jockey planned to hunt round the first circuit before starting to ride a real race past the stands. Glenkiln, the horse whom McCain had originally meant as Le Mare's National contender until he lost his form just before Red Rum was bought, fell at the Chair. But the giant Australian chaser, Crisp, who was shouldering top weight of 12st, had built up a massive lead, although Red Rum had worked his way into second by the next circuit. Crisp appeared unstoppable but conceding 23lb to Red Rum, he slowly began to falter at the famous Elbow after being more than 15 lenghts in front of his rival at the last. Red Rum wore Crisp down, getting up on the line to beat him by three quarters of a lenght and in a record time of 9 min 1.9 sec, knocking nearly 20 seconds off Golden Miller's previous best under 12st 2lb in 1934 - the new record would stand for the next 16 years.

Red Rum was never better than in the 1973 / 74 season which undeniably lays the ghost of him being "only" a National horse. Carrying 11st 4lb, he failed by just a short head to beat Red Candle, who was receiving a stone, in the high class Henessy Gold Cup at Newbury.

Never carrying less than 12st, Red Rum won four more races before collecting his second Grand National, this time carrying the maximum weight. Giving 1lb to the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, L'Escargot, Red Rum started third favourite at 11/1, racing off a mark nearly two stone higher than his 1973 victory. He was the first to achieve the double since Reynoldstown in 1936. But Chaseform testifies that the 1974 winner "made this look incredibly easy." Only three weeks later, Red Rum won the Scottish Grand National as the 11/8 favourite under 11st 13lb.

Fletcher Split

It was then presumed that, having reached a zenith, Red Rum's talent would gradually decline in keeping with the rolling years. Between the autumn of 1974 and the spring of 1976, he ran in 18 chases, winning twice and being placed seven times. But he also gallantly failed to resist first L'Escargot and then Rag Trade in the 1975 and 1976 Grand Nationals.

Fletcher, once champion jockey of the north in 1967 / 68, was sinking into obscurity, having only ridden six winners by the end of January in the 1974 / 75 term. Meanwhile, McCain, bombarded with media criticism for running Red Rum too often, was called to retire the then dual Grand National winner.

After McCain deemed Fletcher to have been easy on the horse in a three-mile race at Newcastle and lost second place, the jockey told McCain to retire Red Rum. Trainer and jockey then finally parted ways. But Red Rum proved his light had not gone out when running a fine race in the Hennesy before going on to nearly wear down Rag Trade in the 1.976 Grand National.

The 1976 / 77 season began dismally.After an initial small win at Carlisle, Red Rum appeared totally lacklustre in his next four races, and even McCain began to think that he might have "gone".

A foul winter had waterlogged the Southport sands, making them useless for training purposes, but Red Rum finally showed something like his old sparkle in his prep race to the 1977 Grand National, the Greenall Whitley Chase at Haydock. Worries about the now 12 year old gelding unwonted bulk abated when, in his last gallop before Aintree, he dazzled McCain and assorted members of the press who had gathered to watch.

Last Aintree Win

Red Rum statue, in the Aintree Racecourse

Ridden by Stack, as he had been in 1976, Red Rum tackled his fifth Grand National in 1977. In the lead from the eighth last, Red Rum appeared momentarily to have a challenger in Churchtown Boy, but the latter's mistake at the third last compared with Red Rum's foot-perfect agility soon settled things in the latter's favour. The noise of the cheering crowd was deafening as he led up the long run-in.

In 1976, Red Rum gave Eyecatcher 17lb and beat her by eight lengths; in 1977, he gave her 21lb and a 31 length beating, rating an improvement at the age of 12 of two stone. The treble, five years in the making, had been achieved. Suddenly, everyone was crying.

The celebrations in Southport which received the three times Grand National winner home were long and rasturous. But the greatest Aintree horse of all time was not yet finished.Up until the morning of the 1978 Grand National, Red Rum was being trained for a sixth attempt at the great race.

He had run well all season, amassing two seconds and a fourth under mighty weights in his five races. But, after his customary pre-National work-out on the day before the big race, Red Rum pulled up lame. The problem proved to be a hairline fracture and the horse had to be retired.

Retired, that is, from the realm of racing.But Red Rum's career as a celebrity continued - a role to which he was as well-adapted as to tackling the Aintree fences. He thrived as the centre of attention, as anyone who saw the 1977 episode of Sports Personality of the Year Awards can testify. Hearing the voice of Tommy Stack, who was speaking from his hospital bed with a broken pelvis, Red Rum immediately pricked his ears, displaying the great intelligence and showmanship so evident in the horse throughout his life. The horse led the parade in many Grand Nationals

Red Rum died on Wednesday, October 18, 1995 and was buried by the winning post on Aintree's Grand National course. His grave is marked by an engraved stone listing his Grand National record, and a life-size bronze commemorates this legendary horse, along with a race staged at Aintree's Festival Meeting, the Martell Red Rum Chase, named in the great horse's memory.