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