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Page last updated at 20:23 GMT, Saturday, 9 April 2011 21:23 UK

Grand National: Mixed emotions at Aintree

By Frank Keogh
BBC Sport at Aintree

Winning jockey Jason Maguire

Watch the closing stages of the 2011 Grand National

Donald McCain was only a boy of three when Red Rum, the great racehorse trained by his father Ginger, won the first of his three Grand Nationals.

Nearly 40 years on, he added his own triumph to the family's Aintree roll of honour as Ballabriggs took the 164th running of the famous race.

It provided the McCain family with their fifth victory in a contest in which most yards feel blessed to have scored just once.

"It's fantastic. I'm very lucky to have been involved with the Grand National all my life," said the 41-year-old Donald, who is based at Cholmondeley in Cheshire.

Red Rum won the race in 1973, 1974 and 1977 and was runner-up twice in the intervening years.

Ginger scored a fourth triumph with Amberleigh House in 2004 and handed over the training reins to his son two years later.

Proving the McCain family are as much a part of Aintree as Becher's Brook, Ballabriggs, ridden by Jason Maguire, saw off the challenge of Oscar Time to give them another National to celebrate.

Trevor Hemmings, the winning owner, said: "Donald has done a brilliant job with Ballabriggs and clearly learned plenty from Ginger as they now have five National trophies on their mantelpiece."

It was also a second win for Hemmings, the former boss of the Pontins holiday firm, who enjoyed his first success with the Willie Mullins-trained Hedgehunter six years ago.

A young Donald McCain with Red Rum
A young Donald McCain feeds carrots to the stable star Red Rum

Ballabriggs savoured the challenge that the four-and-a-half mile test poses, and as he ensured one Aintree story, denied another.

For a few seconds at the Elbow, on the run-in to the winning line, it looked like Oscar Time might collar the leader.

Amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen guided his mount alongside Ballabriggs, but just did not have enough to pass him.

It is a remarkable testament to Waley-Cohen, who runs a dental business, that he is able to compete at such a high level with full-time jockeys.

Already the winner of the King George VI Chase and Cheltenham Gold Cup this year on Long Run, he was narrowly denied an unprecedented treble.

"He did everything I asked of him and he's given me the most phenomenal run," he said of his mount.

"The National course is so special and if a horse takes to it he gives you the best 10 minutes of your life, and also the shortest 10 minutes."

In third was champion jockey Tony McCoy, on last year's winner Don't Push It, with State Of Play securing his third successive placing in the race in fourth.

The Grand National is the world's most famous race for a reason - it is a unique and demanding spectacle.

Ballabriggs's jockey Jason Maguire and trainer Donald McCain celebrate
Maguire and McCain have developed a strong partnership

But its drama can also come at a cost.

Ornais and Dooneys Gate were fatally injured after their falls at the fourth and sixth fences, respectively.

This led to two of the 30 fences being bypassed for the first time in the race's history as runners were sent around the obstacles on the second circuit.

Those who owned, looked after, trained and rode those two horses will be heartbroken.

Their deaths come after a National Hunt season which has seen high-quality chasers die, including Twist Magic and Pride of Dulcote.

That, like them, Ornais also happens to be based at the Somerset yard of champion trainer Paul Nicholls will make matters no better there.

Nicholls gives his horses the best of care. They are well looked after by dedicated stable staff who love the animals.

Some critics of the National call the race cruel, but Aintree will point to modifications it has made to the fences, extra veterinary measures and the fact that fences were bypassed as indications of how seriously it takes the safety of horses.

Ginger McCain has been one of those opposed to making daunting obstacles such as Becher's Brook and The Chair less demanding as he feels it takes away the challenge of the race.

On the other side of the fence are people like the former BBC commentator Sir Peter O'Sullevan, who helped ensure conditions were changed.

"Winning the Grand National is like making love to a beautiful woman, It's so good you want to do it twice," said Ginger. "It's the best race in the world."

Now aged 80, he remains devoted to 'Rummy', the horse who captured the world's imagination.

Red Rum lived a pampered life, revelled in his racing and died at the grand old age of 30 in 1995.

He is buried by the winning post at Aintree, and Ginger visits his grave to chat to his "old lad."

On a day of contrasts, it emerged on Saturday evening that jockey Peter Toole was seriously injured in a fall at Aintree earlier on National day. Family and friends are praying that he will get better.

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see also
Ballabriggs seals National glory
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Where they finished
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Grand National 2011 as it happened
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National treasure
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Grand National photos
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