Red Rum jockey Brian Fletcher dies

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London (AFP)

Brian Fletcher, who rode the legendary Red Rum to two of his three Grand National victories before controversially losing the ride, has died aged 69 of cancer.

Fletcher, who aged just 19 won his first Grand National on Red Alligator for Denys Smith, combined with Red Rum to land the world's most famous steeplechase in both 1973 and 1974.

The first victory was not that warmly received as he got up to beat Australian-owned chaser Crisp in the dying yards of the race after the 'Black Kangaroo' had along with the ill-fated Grey Sombrero led almost from pillar to post -- he was still 15 lengths ahead at the final fence.

However, Fletcher had timed his challenge perfectly and later Crisp's jockey Richard Pitman related how helpless he had been with nothing left in the tank.

"I felt as though I was tied to a railway line with an express train thundering up and being unable to jump out of the way," said Pitman.

Fletcher added both the Grand National and the Scottish version a year later -- Red Rum remains the only horse to have done the double -- but his relationship with the champion's fiery trainer Ginger McCain had a sour ending.

McCain took exception to Fletcher -- who finished second on the stable star in the 1975 race -- saying Red Rum didn't feel good physically after getting off him in a race and replaced him for the 1976 renewal with Irishman Tommy Stack.

Fletcher said the loss of the ride was 'devastating' and never spoke to McCain again -- Stack rode him into second in the 1976 edition and then guided him to his third victory in 1977.

Fletcher, who was not just a one horse rider and finished second in the jockeys championship in 1974, summed up why Red Rum took to Aintree with such a sparkle.

"He was very special in that he never looked like falling in all the years he went there," said Fletcher, who nevertheless regarded the 1974 victory in the Scottish National as the pair's greatest performance.

"A couple of times he nodded. But he was a horse you rode with confidence, because he gave you that confidence. That is why he was such a great horse around Liverpool."

Later life was not kind to him after he was forced to retire aged just 27 after suffering a series of blackouts, a long term result of a horrific fall in 1972 which left him with a fractured skull and in a coma for 10 days.

He dabbled in being a farmer in England which did not go well -- eventually calling on the Injured Jockeys Fund to help him out -- and moved to Wales where he bred Welsh Cobs.

He was as another riding great Peter Scudamore -- who never won the National -- put it on hearing of his death 'an unsung hero'.