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McCain standing up for National treasure

By Chris McGrath

It rather comes under the heading “well, he would say that, wouldn't he?” but Donald McCain, trainer of last year's Grand National winner Ballabriggs, is nonetheless robust and convincing in his defence of the Aintree marathon.

And, like Mandy Rice-Davies, he most certainly speaks from experience.

Ballabriggs yesterday took pride of place at a media morning held to launch the countdown to this year's John Smith's-sponsored contest and discussion inevitably turned to his hard-won victory's controversial aftermath.

McCain's late father Ginger might well have given questioners some of his trademark short shrift, but the son is more measured.

“I'd really have loved a few more people to have seen the horse the morning after the race,” he said.

“He came out of his box bouncing, with his ears pricked, not a hair turned, looking a million dollars,” McCain added.

The name McCain is, of course, part of National folklore.

Ballabriggs followed triple winner Red Rum and Amberleigh House, both under Ginger's care, onto the roll of honour.

McCain was only six when Red Rum won for the third time, but was involved at the sharp end with Amberleigh House eight years ago.

Ginger, who died just four months ago, is to be commemorated at Aintree with a bronze bust overlooking the parade ring.

“It is the greatest race in the world,” said McCain.

“But those who don't like it, well, it's the same with any anti-anything, they hold views and won't change them.

“It's just a shame when the views are couched in ignorance.

“Horses can finish races tired, horses can get killed, horses can have accidents anywhere, not just at Aintree.

“In fact, the course is one of the most forward-thinking in the country when it comes to looking after horses.

“The changes that have been made to the fences since last year aren't going to make a huge difference to the race — it is what it is.”

Ballabriggs himself has not been seen in public since last April — his season this time has been geared only to another tilt at the £975,000 purse.

Trevor Hemmings' 11-year-old will start fast work this week, with his final racecourse prep planned at Kelso in early March.

McCain said: “There's nothing left for us to find out about him along the way — it’s just up to us to get him spot-on for the day.

“I wouldn't be where I am now if it wasn't for the National.

“Winning has been wonderful, but taking part is almost as precious.”

McCain had a double at Ayr yesterday with Lexi’s Boy and Total Rebellion.

And it was a good Ayr day for Larne trainers yesterday with Roy Wilson and Stuart Crawford both having a winner — Yes Tom and Young Palm — at the Scottish track.

Belfast Telegraph

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