Liverpool Cathedral was filled with heart-felt memories of one of racing’s greatest characters as a thousand-strong congregation celebrated the life and times of Ginger McCain.
The four-time Grand National-winning trainer, forever associated with Red Rum, was the name on everyone’s lips before, during and after today’s service.
Among the many famous present and others less so, whose lives were touched by McCain and his fairytale connection with Britain’s favourite race, were a contingent of his own sport’s highest-profile personalities.
Richard Pitman, the jockey pipped at the post on Crisp in the first of Red Rum’s three 1970s victories in five years, read a personal address containing his own affectionate tribute – a poem entitled ’Oh Ginger, Oh Ginger’.
The attendance of football’s Bobby Charlton was a measure, meanwhile, of McCain and Red Rum’s resonance well beyond the world of racing.
Sir Bobby knew him not merely as a famous name in another sport but from much closer quarters, having sold the trainer a pony.
“I’m not a horsey person at all,” he said. “But I had the ponies; someone told him, and he bought one for his daughter.”
One of the Charlton family pets even ended up accompanying Red Rum to Southport beach, where the great horse’s bone ailments had previously been soothed when he was preparing for his annual National challenges.
“I always looked for him and him for me (at events) after that – and we had one of the ponies that used to go with Red Rum into the sea,” added Charlton. “He was larger than life, and this was a fantastic service.”
The ceremony was conducted by the Cathedral’s Acting Dean Canon Myles Davies within five miles of Aintree – the scene of not only Red Rum’s astounding heroics but those of both Amberleigh House, sent out by McCain to win the race in 2004, and then Ballabriggs who was trained to yet another victory by his son Donald this year.
Ginger, there to witness that emotional achievement in April, died in September at the age of 80.
Among the others remembering him with great affection today were lifelong friend Jonathon Turner – also in a personal address – and jockey Tommy Stack, who rode Red Rum to his final Liverpool success in 1977.
“He was a very, very kind man always,” said the Irishman, appropriately enjoying his own 66th birthday today.
“The way he looked after that horse is a credit to him. To go to Liverpool five times, win three and be second twice – it will never be done again.”
McCain’s son, who has followed so admirably in his father’s footsteps and currently has one of this country’s most able string of horses, admitted to initial doubts that the well-wishers would swell sufficiently to fill such a grand venue.
He need not have worried.
“When they said they wanted to come here, the first thing I said was ’Will enough people turn up?”’ he remembered. They told me off for being stupid.
“It’s lovely to see all these people here, some we haven’t seen for an awful long time – his old staff, from the early days in Southport, who we’ve not seen since the move (to Cholmondeley in Cheshire).
“There were people you didn’t expect to come who were turning up. That’s smashing. He’s my dad, and obviously you want people to think fondly of him. I think it proves today what people thought of him.”