Richard or Dick Francis as he was known, a champion steeplechase jockey who went on to become a best-selling British mystery writer, sadly died at his home in the Cayman Islands on 14th February 2010, at the age of eighty-nine.
It was when he retired from racing in 1957 that he started writing, the first book of which was his autobiography The Sport of Queens. His first novel was Dead Cert, which came out in 1962 and he wrote forty-two novels over the years, many of which had a racing theme. Most of his novels are thrillers, for which he has won numerous international awards but the greatest mystery about Dick Francis is how he managed to lose the 1956 Grand National on Devon Loch; the jockey's eighth attempt at the race; - he cleared all thirty jumps and had a ten length lead with no more than sixty yards to go to the finishing post. He tried to explain one of the most remembered falls in Grand National history as a result of the horse getting confused by the huge roar that went up from the crowd in anticipation of his imminent victory. Others say it was because the ten year old bay gelding attempted to leap over an imagined jump, which resulted in a massive belly-flop. This was Francis' last attempt at the great race, and while very nearly a winner, his first attempt was his next closest endeavour for National victory. This first try at the race was in 1949 on top-weighted Roimond, a 22/1 chance, who he brought home second to Russian Hero by eight lengths. Unfortunately for Francis, Roimond was a horse that he had oft times ridden successfully for trainer George Owen. Born in Tenby, Pembrokeshire in October 1920, Francis started riding at the tender age of five, and left school at fifteen to fulfil his ambition of becoming a jockey, like his father and grandfather before him. He took a break from his riding ambitions to become a fighter and bomber pilot for the RAF during the Second World War, but on his return became a National Hunt jockey, with his first race on Russian Hero in October 1946, for George Owen. He turned professional in 1948 and was invited to ride regularly for Lord Bicester. In the 1953-54 season he won the jockey championship with seventy-six winners. Following their National defeat Francis rode Devon Loch in three more races, winning one and finishing second in the other two, including the King George VI Chase. In 1957, injury prevented Francis from racing Devon Loch in the Mildmay Memorial at Sandown, and that was the race where Devon Loch broke down and had to be retired. Francis decided that it was probably a good time for him to retire too, with a career total of 345 wins. Following a very successful writing career from which he retired in 2002, Francis returned to Aintree to open the new weighing-room complex in 2006. The following year he had a quadruple bypass and in 2007 he had to have his right leg amputated due to circulatory problems related to the surgery. When asked about his amputation he only commented: 'My only regret is not winning the Grand National.'
Dick Francis became a legend for losing the Grand National just yards from the finishing post, but which of the 98 horses will win this years Grand National? Get the lowdown at www.grand-national.me.uk.