Grand National legend Donald “Ginger” McCain has died aged 80.

The trainer, who famously won the Aintree race four times – three of those with Red Rum – died in the early hours of this morning (Monday, 19 September) aged 80 at his home in Cholmondeley, Cheshire.

He would have turned 81 on Wednesday (21 September).

The colourful trainer celebrated Grand National victory with Red Rum in 1973, 1974, 1977 and Amberleigh House in 2004. He retired in 2006 and handed the training reins over to his son Donald, who in April carried on the family legacy winning the race with Ballabriggs.

“Ginger passed away peacefully in his sleep after a short illness,” his wife Beryl said today. There will be a private family funeral followed by a later memorial service, for which there will be more information in the coming weeks.

“Joanne, Donald Jnr [his daughter and son] and I appreciate all the kindness we are being shown and, at this difficult time, would appreciate it if we were afforded some privacy.”

Joanne tweeted earlier today: “I love you Dad. You are the best, You’ll always be with us. Xxx”

A real character, the often outspoken trainer used to be a taxi driver to supplement his training income. It was through driving he met Noel le Mare, whom he went on to buy Red Rum for. Ginger famously exercised the horse along the beach at Southport.

“We are deeply saddened at the news of Ginger’s death and our thoughts are very much with the McCain family,” said Aintree chairman Lord Daresbury.

“Ginger was a local man and a true ‘National legend’. His four Grand National victories was an unbelievable achievement and brought the race even closer to the nation’s heart. Ginger was a terrific supporter of the racecourse; we will badly miss him at Aintree on raceday.”

He added that staff at the racecourse will be speaking to Ginger’s family to agree how to best remember his achievements.

Tributes from the racing world have poured in on Twitter.

Jockey AP McCoy: “Sad to hear about the death of Aintree legend Ginger McCain trainer of the great Red Rum. My thoughts are with his family, RIP”

Trainer and former jockey Brendan Powell: “Sad to hear of Ginger McCain’s passing. Tough but fair man to ride for. Thoughts are with his family. RIP,” Brendan Powell.

Jockey Sam Twiston-Davies: RIP ginger McCain true legend.

Presenter Clare Balding: “Very sad. He was an old-fashioned type and said what he thought but he was a character alright. Whenever I approached Ginger with a microphone it raised the heart rate. He might swear, say something offensive or be pertinent and funny.”

For more reaction and a comment from H&H columnist Marcus Armytage see Thursday’s issue of H&H (22 September).