Full house for ginger

It’s 31 years since Red Rum’s first Grand National victory, but trainer Ginger McCainis still as twitchy about his latest charge at Aintree today. He spoke to Ray Gilpin.

GINGER McCAIN has the magic touch in getting horses ready and willing to tackle the massive Aintree fences and he is not without hope of landing a fourth Martell Cognac Grand National when he gives Graham Lee the leg up on Amberleigh House today.

Red Rum, of course, was the epitome of a Grand National horse, winning three times and twice finishing runner-up in the gruelling four-and-a-half-mile test for McCain.

The legendary jumping hero never looked happy when having to trudge around Haydock Park on a cold, wet, foggy day in February, but come Grand National day in April he always looked a picture of health.

And McCain has timed things to perfection with Amberleigh House, whom he trains for John Halewood.

The 12-year-old has had two main targets all season, the Tote Becher Chase over three miles, three furlongs of the National course, and the big race itself.

The Cheshire handler said: "We train him with those two races in mind and it is a system which has worked out pretty well in the past. He won the Becher in 2001, but then we couldn't get in the handicap in the National the following spring.

"So we had to go for the 'John Hughes' and he finished ninth, then in 2002 he finished second to Ardent Scout in the Becher, got in the National and ran a blinder. I thought he might even win at the last, but we had to settle for third behind Monty's Pass."

Amberleigh House has in fact run in six races over the National fences and having been brought down at the eighth in the 2001 National, run on desperate ground (only four finished) on his first visit, he has since clearly developed into a natural around Aintree, a point proved by another tremendous Becher effort in November.

He was beaten, literally on the nod by Clan Royal, giving him 7lb, but he is 2lb better off with that one today, having been allotted 10st 7lb.

"I am very, very pleased with him, I had him really spot-on last year and I think he is again," said McCain. "He finished fifth at Doncaster last time out, and although he was beaten 27 lengths by the winner Grey Abbey, there was a lot more to that performance than meets the eye.

"The trip (three miles) was short of his best and the fences are a bit easy and he was giving them plenty of daylight, but he stayed on from the last and we were happy with him.

"The form is working out well, the runner-up Royal Auclair finished third in the William Hill Handicap Chase at Cheltenham and the third, Mercato, went on to win the Grand Military Gold Cup at Sandown."

Red Rum won the last of his three Nationals in 1977, having finished runner-up between the second and third victories, and McCain recalled: "They were all magic in their way, all special.

"When he won his first (in 1973), he started joint favourite, but I never really expected him to win, and then to win it again the next year after being off for so long was really something.

"Then he finished second twice before winning it again, that was unbelievable, they were all great days."

McCain put the finishing touches to Amberleigh House's preparation with a gallop at Bangor-On-Dee last Saturday and was delighted with the outcome.

The former Michael Hourigan charge covered two miles and jumped three fences under Tony Dobbin after big-race jockey Graham Lee had suffered a fall earlier in the afternoon.

"I was absolutely delighted with him and so was Tony, who has ridden him in a Becher Chase," said Ginger.

"Tony was impressed with the way the horse jumped and said he was spot-on, but I think he just might come on a bit more for the big race.

"Ideally, good or good to firm ground will suit him, but he does go on good to soft," added McCain.

"We don't want to get too excited but, granted the necessary luck in running, I think he will run a good race. Graham has said he might hold him up a bit longer this time, because he has one run and then stays on."

He has been entered for the Irish National 'just in case something puts him out of the National early on'.

He is now a 12-year-old, but so was Red Rum when he triumphed for a third time, and McCain said: "Since he came to us from Ireland you know, he has not had a lot of racing and we did a few different things with him last summer.

"Obviously being 12 is not a barrier to a horse winning the race, he has a perfect racing weight, and granted luck in running I really think he can win it."

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