TRIBUTES have been paid to a three-time Grand National winner who shunned the limelight in favour of a quiet life farming.

County Durham born Brian Fletcher, who twice rode Red Rum to victory for Donald “Ginger” McCain in the 1970s, died yesterday (Wednesday) at the age of 69.

His death, understood to be from cancer, has saddened the horse racing community, with the1960 Grand National winner Gerry Scott describing him as an “excellent horsemen who quietly got the job done.”

Mr Fletcher is the only man to have ridden three National winners since the turn of the 20th century. Prior to his consecutive wins on Red Rum in 1973 and 1974, a 20-year-old Mr Fletcher triumphed on Red Alligator for the late Bishop Auckland trainer Denys Smith in 1968.

The family of Mr Smith, who died last November, have joined the tributes.

His grand-daughter, Caroline, said: “My Grandad, Brian Fletcher and Red Alligator were a great team and it’s so sad that both the Grand National-winning trainer and jockey should pass away so close to each other.”

The Northern Echo:

VICTORY: Brian Fletcher rides Red Alligator to victory at the 1968 Grand National

Shortly before news of Mr Fletcher’s death broke, Miss Smith was at Catterick Races, presenting the Denys Smith Memorial Trophy to the winner of the North Yorkshire Grand National.

“The timing of the news is very poignant,” she said. “Brian was a very young man when he rode Red Alligator in the National so my Grandad clearly had enormous faith in him. The fact that Brian went on to perform more heroics in the great race on Red Rum shows that Grandad’s faith was justified.”

Yet, despite Mr Fletcher’s success, he never sought out fame.

Speaking to The Northern Echo from his Welsh farm in 2004, he said: “I’m a quiet sort of lad, always have been, and I try to keep things cool. I’m still known around the area, get asked to do talks and that sort of thing, but I don’t look for publicity.”

Mr Scott, 79 grew up in Bedburn near Hamsterley Forest and used to store his bike on the Fletcher family’s farm in Cockfield.

When Mr Fletcher followed him into horse racing, Mr Scott offered advice and organised a celebratory lunch for the younger jockey after his 1968 Grand National win.

The Northern Echo:

Brian Fletcher

“Brian was a very quiet man but friendly once you got talking to him,” said Mr Scott.

“He was an excellent horseman who quietly got the job done.”

In 1976, Mr Fletcher suffered a fractured skull in a fall which effectively ended his career in the saddle.

After 25 years farming near West Auckland, he moved to a 38-acre farm in Carmarthenshire to breed Welsh cobs and keep sheep.

He displayed a poem written by his mother, Ruby, on the farmhouse wall.

It ended with the line: “While they all shout and cheer for Red Rum I’ll be one in a million, I’ll just cheer for my son.”