Remembering Red Rum’s historic Grand National hat-trick

Red Rum won an unmatched three Grand Nationals in the 1970s.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look back at the remarkable feat.

Shaky start

Donald ‘Ginger’ McCain pictured on Southport beach as his string cool down on the sands
Donald ‘Ginger’ McCain pictured on Southport beach as his string cool down on the sands (PA)

Bred in Kilkenny, Ireland, in 1965, Red Rum’s first visit to a racecourse was at the track he would later become synonymous with – Aintree. However, he had been bred with a career on the flat in mind and his racecourse debut saw him dead-heat in a five-furlong sprint. He developed into a mediocre flat horse, running in a string of low-value races and changing hands often before ending up in the yard of Ginger McCain. The gelding cost £6,000 and was lame when he arrived in the yard, but a training regime that included paddling through the shallows of Southport beach helped to alleviate the symptoms of an incurable bone disease.

Unbelievable comeback

Red Rum (left) , ridden by Brian Fletcher, winning his first Grand National in 1973
Red Rum (left), ridden by Brian Fletcher, winning his first Grand National in 1973 (PA)

His first encounter with the Grand National was in the memorable 1973 race. Red Rum went to post as joint 9-1 favourite alongside high-class staying chaser Crisp. The heavier Crisp looked a runaway winner of the contest when leading by 33 lengths as he jumped Becher’s Brook for the second time. However, Red Rum – ridden by Brian Fletcher – was gaining ground and by the time Crisp jumped the last fence, the lead was 15 lengths. Crisp began to tire under the top weight he was carrying and just two strides from the line he was overtaken by Red Rum, who won by three-quarters of a length in a record time of nine minutes and 1.9 seconds.

Back to back

Red Rum being led in by Ginger McCain after winning his second successive Grand National in 1974
Red Rum being led in by Ginger McCain after winning his second successive Grand National in 1974 (PA)

The gelding returned to defend his title the following year and this time he was the one lumbered with 12 stone, a weight horses running in the Grand National are no longer asked to carry. Partnered again by jockey Brian Fletcher, he started at a price of 11-1 as punters preferred dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner L’Escargot and 7-1 favourite Scout, the mount of Tommy Stack. Travelling in mid-division for the bulk of the race, Red Rum jumped to the head of the field as he tackled Becher’s Brook for the second time. That lead only widened as he pulled away from runner-up L’Escargot to retain his title by several lengths.

The hat-trick search

Princess Anne meets Red Rum
Princess Anne meets Red Rum (Martin Keene/PA)

An unprecedented third successive victory was denied by old foe L’Escargot, who went on to triumph by a decisive 15 lengths. In 1976 he was again beaten into second place, this time at the hands of Fred Rimmell’s Rag Trade. Previous jockey Fletcher had spoken sceptically of the horse’s ability to win for a third time and was replaced by Stack. Red Rum jumped into the lead over the final fence but Rag Trade pulled away. Stack was criticised by McCain, who thought the ride for the line began too early.

History made

Red Rum makes history when becoming the winner of the Grand National for a record third time
Red Rum makes history when becoming the winner of the Grand National for a record third time (PA)

Stack remained in the role in 1977 when Red Rum, aged 12, was considered by many to be too old to run competitively. This time the gelding would not be denied. After many of the field fell away throughout the first circuit, Red Rum took the lead over the 22nd fence. From there on he was infallible, floating home with only loose horses for company to register a 25-length victory. Spectators spilled out on to the track in a scene commentator Sir Peter O’Sullevan described as: “A tremendous reception, you’ve never heard one like it at Liverpool – Red Rum wins the National!”

Legacy

Red Rum’s grave at Aintree
Red Rum’s grave at Aintree (Rui Vieira/PA)

McCain had another tilt at the big race planned, but a hairline fracture in the run-up to the fixture saw Red Rum retired. He became something of a celebrity, his image was used on a stamp and he was even called upon to attend the opening of a new rollercoaster at Blackpool Illuminations, named ‘The Steeplechaser’ in his honour. Led on stage at the 1977 BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards, he gained even more fans when neighing in recognition of the voice of Stack, who was appearing via video link. Red Rum died aged 30 and was buried at the winning post on the Grand National course at Aintree, his grave remaining open to the public and often decorated with flowers ahead of the race he won three times. No horse has yet matched the record he set in 1977, with Gordon Elliott’s back-to-back winner Tiger Roll the most likely candidate to repeat the feat.

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