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Monday, 10 December, 2018

Grand National winner Amberleigh House dies aged 25

Amberleigh House and Graham Lee winning at Aintree
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Amberleigh House, the horse who restored Ginger McCain's name to the Grand National roll of honour 27 years after the last of Red Rum's three victories, has died at the age of 25.

The 2004 Grand National winner, the last 12-year-old to triumph in the Aintree spectacular, died of complications after contracting colic.

He had fallen ill a week after parading on Grand National day at Aintree. He spent his retirement with trainer Lisa Williamson, the sister of Judy Halewood, whose family still owned the horse.

"He paraded on National day where he was amazing and looked fantastic," Williamson said. "He had been really well all week and full of himself but the following Friday he was struck down with colic.

"We did everything we could to save him. He was operated on but unfortunately he didn't make it.

"He's enjoyed a very happy retirement with me in Cheshire. He has been very busy with his public appearances and it was nice that his last one was on Grand National day."

Amberleigh House, ridden by Graham Lee, beat Clan Royal to win at Aintree for the then 73-year-old McCain, 27 years after Red Rum's historic third victory.

In triumph he fulfilled a long-standing wish of McCain and the late John Halewood that they would one day find another horse to emulate Red Rum.

McCain bought Amberleigh House for £75,000 after seeing him win at the 2000 Punchestown festival for Michael Hourigan, but when he arrived at the yard the trainer was so unimpressed he thought the wrong horse had been delivered.

McCain's son Donald said: "John Halewood and Dad were very good friends and he wanted a National horse as much as Dad. Dad came home from Punchestown one day and said, 'I've seen a National horse and I think he might be for sale'. He was running between two and two and a half miles most of the time. They bought him and Dad was raving about the horse.

From the archives: Red Marauder, winner of notorious 2001 Grand National, dies aged 26

"He got him home in the early hours of the morning and we were all very excited, and this little horse comes out, stood in his stable with his head on the floor and he wasn't showing himself. Dad said, 'That's not Amberleigh House'.

"He went to bed a little upset but when we took him out the next day he was like a different animal. I'm not a small fella and I rode him every morning and never felt big on him. He was the most wonderful athlete and I don't think I'll ever sit on a horse with the amount of scope he had. He could take off two strides away from a fence and land two strides the other side, like a rubber ball. The old man was right and he became a very good Aintree horse."

Amberleigh House ran 11 times at the course where, despite a bruising first experience in the 2001 National, he nearly always rose to the challenge. He contested the Grand National five times – winning once and finishing third – and also won and finished second twice in the Becher Chase.

McCain, who was then assistant to his father, said: "The one thing I was taught by the old man was if you want to win a Grand National it's all about one day. It's not so much the horse wasn't any good anywhere else, it was that he was only ever trained for one day. That was the way we did it.

"The first time he went to Aintree he was hit sideways on by Paddy's Return at the Canal Turn so he was at the bottom of the pile-up. We were in the Leahurst veterinary hospital that night because he had an artery that wouldn't stop bleeding."

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Despite winning the Becher Chase the following season, Amberleigh House missed the cut for the Grand National in 2002 – prompting his trainer to argue for the allowance of an Aintree factor into the framing of the weights – but earned a run in 2003 to finish third.

"We were thrilled to be third but thought that was our chance," said McCain. "It was Dad again who said, 'All you've got to do is improve him 7lb', which I'd like to think we did. As much as I did the daily stuff, a lot of it was down to the old man."

Graham Lee, who rode Amberleigh House to victory at Aintree, remembers his famous partner

I was lucky enough that Amberleigh House gave me the best day of my career by winning the most famous race in the world.

I rode him in four Grand Nationals and he was brilliant. Although he only measured very, very small, when you showed him an Aintree fence he grew a hand. He thrived on those fences and that was before they got modified. He was a very special and brave little horse.

Like everything in sport you learn more in defeat than when you win. I got beat a short head on him in the 2003 Becher Chase but for me that was what won us the National the following April from what I learned that day.

I don't think I should ever have got beat on him in that race but I used up his run, whereas in the National I knew it would be a case of saving and saving and saving.

I was devastated to lose that Becher Chase, but looking at the bigger picture it was what won him the big one.

Obviously you need luck on the day but it was meant to be. He was a great horse for me.

We did everything we could to save him. He was operated on him but unfortunately he didn't make it

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