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To train any horse to win a race is a worthwhile achievement. To train one to win the same race more than once takes some doing, though it can be helped if the horse in question comes into its best at the time of year that race is run. But to target the same race for five years, win it three times and be beaten only 15 lengths in the other two – over a total distance of 22 and a half miles? One of the supreme training feats in the history of racing came to fruition 35 years ago this week. Was it the best ever?
1977 was the year in which Red Rum, at the age of 12, won his third Grand National. His first two victories, in 1973 and 1974, were followed by second placed finishes in the following two years.
Whilst everyone wanted to see a third success, how many dared to believe it would happen? Apparently plenty did, as although note favourite in the race, Red Rum was returned at 9/1. But there were doubters too, with plenty of people saying that as 12 he was too old to have a realistic chance.
Red Rum led the race from Becher’s on the second circuit in a race in which only nine of the 42 starters completed the course. After Rummy had jumped the last fence trainer Ginger McCain said “All I wanted to do was cry.” Big race jockey, Tommy Stack, said Red Rum’s entry had been justified, adding, “He is so intelligent, always looks for the open places and is always on the alert for loose horses.”
After the race McCain said that the plan was to have a tilt at a fourth National in 1978, and bookmakers immediately put him in at 20/1. In the end this didn’t happen. He was entered, but a heel injury sustained in the run up to the race meant that he couldn’t run. But,of course, you couldn’t keep Red Rum away, and he was at Aintree on National day to lead the parade.
The 1977 National made history in another way, which understandably was rather overshadowed by Red Rum. It was the first National in which a woman rider, Charlotte Brew, took part. Her horse, Barony Fort, was a long way behind the leaders when he refused before the fourth last, but she had done enough to confound the trainers and jockeys who had said that the National was no place for a woman.