Another Grand National Fairy Tale, This Time with Sam Waley-Cohen
Over the years, since its first running, The Grand National at Aintree, since its first running in 1839, has thrown up some remarkable stories. This year was another, where an amazing fairy tale story unfolded. Although it is now nearly a week since the great race, the subject is still close to many hearts.
The extraordinary thing about the Grand National Steeple Chase is that it has become an annual institution with so many in the world taking an interest, even if they do not normally have any interest or follow racing normally. The race is run at the famous Aintree Racecourse near Liverpool and has 40 runners taking on 30 fences over 4 miles 2 ½ furlongs. It is the richest national hunt race in Europe and is a handicap. Of the 30 jumps, which are bigger than in normal national hunt races, the better known and more famous ones are Beeches Brook, The Chair and the Canal Turn. The favourite for the race has only won on ten occasions in the last 70 runnings.
There are many notable stories which are unique to The Grand National, a few of which we mention here. The first is Red Rum, trained by Ginger McCain, the only horse to win it three times. Others have tried, including recently, the little horse by High Chaparral, Tiger Roll who won the race twice. In the 1950s, the famous flat trainer Vincent O’Brien trained the winner three consecutive years with three different horses. In 1986, West Tip won the race after trying for five times previously. Jockey Tom Olliver rode in the race nineteen times, and won it on three of those occasions.
Perhaps the most heart rending in the race’s history was that of Bob Champion and Aldaniti in 1981 and was and still is such a story that even a famous and successful film was made about it. Bob Champion had a virulent testicular cancer and was not expected to live very long. He underwent treatment and was in fact cured. His determination was such that he was determined to ride in the race once he was well enough to do so. Similarly, his horse, Aldaniti suffered an serious injury to his tendons and was thought never to be able to race again. Aldaniti was trained by Josh Gifford, and while Josh was able to bring the horse back to good health, to run in a Grand National was a tall order. However, both horse and jockey started to get well enough and the risk, and it was a risk to both, were entered in the great race. It was tough for both in the preparation, but particularly for Bob Champion. As the pair finished on the day of the race, and they were in the winner’s spot, the grand stand erupted and the fairy tale was complete. Bob Champion is still alive today and heads up a cancer charity which is well supported throughout the world. Then of course, there was the race that never was in 1993 when a horse got tangled up in the starting tape as it went up. The starter declared a false start immediately, but such was the excitement among the jockeys, that about half of them set off. Due to a complete lack of communication, those jockeys carried on, oblivious to the false start and went onto finish the race. It was a complete fiasco and the result was declared void. There are many other stories and even coincidences over the years, in fact far to mention them all here, but the 2022 Grand National will go down in history as one of those with a fairy tale ending.
The Grand National was always for ‘gentleman riders’ and although female jockeys have been riding in the race for some years now, amateur riders are still allowed within the rules. On only one occasion has a female jockey won the race – Rachael Blackmore in 2021 riding Minella Times, and she was back to try to win back to back wins in 2022.
Mr Sam Waley Cohen was booked to ride his father’s horse Noble Yeats, only a 7 year old gelding and was thought not to have enough age or experience to take on the mighty jumps. Noble Yeats only had his first start under national hunt rules in October 2021, so to run in this race was a big ask, if not reckless! The last amateur jockey to win was in 1990, when Marcus Armatage won on Mr Frisk. This year, just before the race Sam Waley Cohen announced that this year’s Grand National would his last competitive ride in any national hunt race. He said that at the age of 40, although previously the winning jockey of both The Cheltenham Gold Cup and The King George VI Chase at Kempton in his career as a jockey, he felt the time had come and he would retire after this Grand National. Sam rode in the Grand National ten times and was second in 2011. Although Sam is credited with being one of the best jockeys to ride at Aintree, whether amateur or not, he rode a total of seven wins from forty one rides, his chances this time were at best 50/1. There were several others in the race thought to be worthy winners including Minella Times with the still in form Rachael Blackmore. Other top contenders were Any Second Now, who was second behind Minella Times last year, Delta Work and Santini. In fact they occupied places from second to fifth with the exception of Minella Times who unseated Blackmore at the third fence.
Sam Waley Cohen kept Noble Yeats out of trouble in the middle of the pack for most of the race, although the numbers were diminishing fast. Two fences from the end, Sam moved his charge nearer the front and over the second last fence was in the lead. Second home again, Any Second Now took the lead at the last, but started to run pout of petrol as the pair came to the elbow and towards the finish line. So a furlong out, Sam, who was on the inside was perfectly placed to go on and overtake Any Second Now which he did to win the race by about a length.
What a fairy tale end to an illustrious amateur career. On his last ride he takes the one of the top three races in the calendar, having already taken the other two – The Grand National, and for his father as owner of the horse.
Sam Waley Cohen is married with two children. His brother died when he was in his twenties of a brain tumour and the first thing Sam said after his victory was “this is for my brother who I know will be looking down” As a profession, Sam has a large network of dentists, a business he has built up since 2009.
Our congratulations go to Sam and his family on a famous and fairy tale result.
Images courtesy BBC