Grand National: 'Ginger' genes rejoice
So the marvel that is the Grand National, that tradition handed down for more than 170 years, enters a new era. You could even say the circle of life itself rolls on.
The bare result of the John Smith's Grand National of 2011 states that Ballabriggs, ridden by Jason Maguire and trained by Donald McCain Jnr, won the world's biggest and most famous prize in National Hunt racing at the odds of 14-1. Facts rarely convey complete reality, however, and the true story of this National was an emotionally-gripping one of a baton being handed from father to son and of a new generation taking on the mantle of winner and local hero.
The National's enduring legend has been gilded with a new and glorious chapter, thanks to a very brave horse, a courageous jockey and a remarkable family of horsemen who began training their animals a short drive from Aintree at Southport.
Back in the 1970s – was it really so long ago? – Donald 'Ginger' McCain, as the patriarch is always known, famously sent the almost mythic Red Rum from Southport beach to win the National three times, as well as finishing second twice. He added to his roll of honour in 2004 when Amberleigh House gave him a fourth National to add to his third place the year before. Yesterday afternoon, his son Donald emblazoned the family escutcheon with another glittering honour, preparing Ballabriggs to perfection to enable the ten-year-old son of Presenting to finally fulfil his great potential.
Jockey Jason Magiure had been injured in a heavy fall at Aintree on Thursday, but with his elbow stitched and his arm in a plastic splint, he ignored the pain and drove Ballabriggs round Aintree in pole position from the off, completely disregarding the trainer's advice to hang back. "If he'd done what Donald told him, he would have lost," quipped owner Trevor Hemming.
• Scottish hope thwarted by lively ground
There were tears in Ginger's eyes in the winner's enclosure, and afterwards, as Donald Jnr took the plaudits at the press conference, his 80-year-old father sat quietly among the journalists, his blue eyes still moist and twinkling.
"He's bred to do the job and he's done it, so why should I be proud of him?" said Ginger with his bluff northern humour: "Of course I'm very proud. He's a bloody good trainer.
"The horse is pretty good, too. You have to be to make pretty much all the running in the National. He seemed to meet every fence on a stride and he's done everything we thought he was capable of doing.
"I had a feeling of very, very deep satisfaction when I saw Ballabriggs coming to win the race. You're never quite sure until they cross the line, you've seen them done from the Elbow before, but Jason gave him a couple of slaps and he went away from them."
The tale of the race can be told quite straightforwardly. Ballabriggs went to the front early on, and was always either first or second.
Maguire kicked on during the second circuit, and though plenty contenders came at him, Ballabriggs found plenty extra stamina when challenged and stayed on in utterly stout fashion to win by just over two lengths from Oscar Time, the mount of Cheltenham Gold Cup winning amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen.
It wasn't quite so simple, of course. Early fallers included Calgary Bay, while Becher's Brook claimed four on the first circuit, including West End Rocker who was unluckily brought down.
As they entered the home straight for the first time, Ballabriggs was looking almost comfortable in front, and with a third of the field having departed before the start of the second and final circuit, the question was which other contenders could get to Maguire and his well-travelling mount.
As they came into the home straight, Oscar Time loomed large on Ballabriggs's tail, with Waley-Cohen going for an unprecedented double of Gold Cup and National. Also threatening a serious finish was last year's winning duo of Don't Push It and perennial champion jockey Tony McCoy, a result that would have seen bookmakers' on Valium for a month. Favourite The Midnight Club also came late but blundered and was never nearer than his final sixth place.
Nothing could pass Ballabriggs, however, and he led over the final fence and past the Elbow, finding the stamina from somewhere to cross the line in front, with Maguire immediately dismounting from the winner who was almost out on his hooves.
Many years ago, Donald McCain Jnr played happily in the garage where Red Rum lived. Now based at Bankhouse Stables in Cholmondeley, Cheshire, yesterday it was his turn to rejoice on his own behalf: "It's just incredible, isn't it? I'm very lucky to have been involved with the Grand National all my life. The thing about us and Aintree is, I guess, as much about us coming from the north west."
Maguire commented: "I had a fall on Thursday and got a coup,e of stitches but I'm fine. He really dug deep and was very tired afterwards. It will take a while for it to sink in."
Sadly, both Ornais and Dooneys Gate were killed, pretty much instantly, after heavy falls at the fourth fence and Becher's Brook on the first circuit, respectively. Both fences were bypassed as a result of the fatalities on the second circuit – one of the safety measures introduced two years ago was to allow avenues around fences, and they proved invaluable yesterday.
Racing people never forget the sadness of such events, and much sympathy was expressed to the connections, while even in the midst of his celebrations, the wealthy Hemmings remembered that there are other people less fortunate than himself in the beleaguered north west of England.
"The world outside's facing a tough time because of the finances," he said, "so anything that is good news for the north west is excellent."
The Hemmings and McCains of this world know what the Grand National means – the ultimate test of trainer, horse and jockey, and an inviolable part of the heritage of this country. As Ginger said, "it's in the genes," and the wee boy who idolised Red Rum yesterday proved he has inherited them in full.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Tuesday 21 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: West