Ginger McCain, an English used-car salesman and part-time cabdriver who became a successful thoroughbred trainer, guiding Red Rum to victory in the Grand National steeplechase an unprecedented three times, died Sept. 19 at his home in Cholmondeley, Cheshire. He was 80.
Mr. McCain’s death was announced by his family. British news accounts reported that he had cancer.
Organized in 1839, the 4.5-mile Grand National steeplechase at the Aintree Racecourse near Liverpool is considered the most prestigious and grueling test for thoroughbreds.
That Red Rum won the race three times and placed second twice from 1973 to 1977 was a testament to the horse’s athleticism and to Mr. McCain’s eye for talent.
In 2004, Mr. McCain won the Grand National a fourth time, tying the record.
Mr. McCain began training racehorses in the 1950s and later opened a stable behind his car showroom in the seaside hamlet of Southport. As a driver for hire, Mr. McCain had Noel Le Mare, a millionaire octogenarian, as a regular client.
Mr. McCain soon began training Le Mare’s horses and, in 1972, arranged to purchase for him a 7-year-old bay gelding, the son of Mared and Quorum — Red Rum.
By the time Mr. McCain found him, the battered, injury-prone horse had displayed only marginal promise. But Mr. McCain had seen Red Rum’s willing effort in the 1972 Scottish Grand National, where the horse came in fifth.
To cure Red Rum’s persistent lameness, Mr. McCain trained him on the Southport beaches, where the saltwater and sand appeared to have a remedial effect. Mr. McCain said he had been inspired by shrimpers, whose cart horses toiled in the surf all day and were “as sound as bells of brass.”
The unusual treatment worked. In the 1973 Grand National, Red Rum easily sailed over the spruce-blanketed jumps, some of which were more than five feet high.
He proved his endurance by coming from far behind the leaders to win the race by three-quarters of a length, beating the favorite — the champion steeplechaser Crisp — and setting a course record.
He won again in 1974 and placed second in 1975 and 1976. His greatest victory came in 1977, when Mr. McCain predicted Red Rum would win by six lengths if the weather was sunny.
It was Red Rum’s last Grand National. Every year until the 1990s, Red Rum returned to the Grand National to lead the post-parade.
Mr. McCain’s annual presence, too, became as much a part of the Aintree tradition as befeathered hats on ladies’ heads and gentlemen’s straw bowlers.
When Red Rum died in 1995, at age 30, he was buried on the racecourse grounds, only steps away from the finish line.
Twenty seven years after Red Rum’s last Grand National win, Mr. McCain’s horse Amberleigh House won the race. Mr. McCain visited Red Rum’s grave afterward to have a conversation with his old friend about the new horse’s victory.
“I said, ‘Well, what do you think of that, then?’ ” Mr. McCain told an audience. “And do you know what he said? ‘Let him do it twice more and I’ll tell you!’ ”
Donald McCain was born Sept. 21, 1930, in Southport. He earned the nickname “Ginger” for his red hair.
Outside of racing, Mr. McCain’s penchant for colorful speech and cantankerous attitude garnered him headlines in newspapers. He was particularly known for making disparaging remarks about women and for seeming to impede efforts to improve safety at racetracks
Some years, as many as half the horses who start the Grand National course do not finish. Two horses were killed in the 2011 Grand National. Although many in his profession advocated lowering fence heights, which takes some risk out of imposing jumps, Mr. McCain said such measures would make the race faster and thus more dangerous.
“You don’t climb Everest by taking 10,000 feet off the top,” he said.
Survivors include his wife, the former Beryl Harris, whom he married in 1961; a son, Donald McCain Jr., a trainer who won this year’s Grand National with Ballabriggs; a daughter, Joanne; and five grandchildren.