The Grand National


A few moments after 3.20 the thirty-nine runners, ready to complete for a first prize of 51,324, moved up to the starting tapes and began to sort themselves in to semblance of order. Some jockeys, like the brilliant double champion John Francome on So and Philip Blacker on the top weight Royal Mail, opted for the inside where the advantage of fewer horses was offset perhaps by the steeper drops they would encounter. A dozen horses and riders joined Bob Champion on the wide outside of the course. Bob walked round quietly on Aldaniti watching carefully as the starter, Captain Dick Smalley, mounted his rostrum. A white flag was raised and a few seconds later, to an expectant roar, Captain Smalley pressed the lever in his hand, the tapes rose and the field for the 1981 Grand National surged off towards the first fence some four hundred and fifty yards away. Bob Champion's distinctive white colours could be seen on Aldaniti on the outside.

Aldaniti is unbelievably tough. I always knew he would gallop until he dropped and I'm convinced that if, during the race, I had pointed him at a twenty-foot brick wall he would have gone straight through it. He was exhausted at the end but however tired he would have kept galloping for ten miles. His guts won the race. Nothing else.

I must admit I thought if I won the Grand National it would be one of the seven wonders of the world. It proves miracles do happen. Some people wrote us off as two old crocks together but I think we proved in the race we are not quite past it yet.

You can never fully accept that you are going to win the National, just as no-one really thinks they are going to collect on the football pools. You just hope and pray. I'm quite good at hoping. You shouldn't be in the job if you don't believe in certain things.

For me winning the National is like winning a gold medal at the Olympic Games or becoming a World Boxing Champion. It's a race I've always wanted to win so badly and I'm lucky to have done it. So many great jockeys have never had any luck at Liverpool. People like Jonjo O'Neill, Jeff King and Ron Barry. I didn't believe it had happened until we passed the post, or the lollypop stick as I call it. I still don't believe it some of the time. Well, did anyone really believe it?

This is an extract from my book Champion's Story.

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