4 April 2004


It could not happen, but it did. Within yards of where the daffodils mark the great Red Rum’s grave, another Ginger McCain trained horse slugged up the Aintree run-in to snatch the Grand National just as dramatically as Red Rum had the first of his three triumphs back in 1973. Amberleigh House had history in his stride.

Old Ginger is 73 now. He has forsaken the stables behind the second-hand car lot in the middle of Southport, for the delights of rural Cheshire and gallops in front of a 19th century castle. But Ginger has Aintree written on his heart and his face was quite purple with pride as the almost pony-sized Amberleigh House cut down the exhausted leader Clan Royal, whose luckless jockey Liam Cooper had lost his whip five fences out and his sense of direction after the last.

Every Grand National is full of might-have-beens. Joint favourite Jurancon turned over with Tony McCoy at the fourth, the 2002 winner Bindaree got completely crowded out at Becher’s first time round, and the long-time leader Hedgehunter capsized when still in contention at the last. Yet all these misfortunes paled to nothing compared to the demons which closed on poor Liam Cooper when he forced the weary Clan Royal to the front over the last fence but then put his head down and drove straight on instead altering course diagonally to connect up with the final finishing rail.

By the time he realised his mistake he had to wrench Clan Royal almost 90 degrees to the right to get back on track and as he finally straightened out to hold off the eventual third Lord Attebury, here came Amberleigh House flapping up like an avenging angel on the outside. Graham Lee had vowed to be patient on the 15.2 hand 12-year-old who was third to Monty’s Pass last year and who had been brought to a standstill at Becher’s this time. Now immortality had come to the man who could wait.

Lee is a 29-year-old from County Galway whose 11 seasons in England are only now bringing him the recognition and the winners his talents deserve, this victory being the 83rd of by far his best term to date. It put him into the big time but yesterday belonged to Ginger McCain, a man for whom Aintree has been a mission ever since he first came here back in 1938, and who put himself and Red Rum into Grand National history with those three wins and two seconds between 1973 and 77.

Only 11 of yesterday’s 39 starters crossed the finishing line but no horses were injured and just James Davies (with neck injuries) and Tom Scudamore (with a suspected broken wrist) needed hospital treatment. “This is a lovely, lovely day,” McCain said as he receieved his trophy. “You can take me round the corner and shoot me now. “I never thought I was ever going to win another National, it’s as simple as that.”

Seventy thousand racegoers were there to echo McCain’s closing tribute: “This is the people’s race, in a people’s place.”

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