JOHN Buckingham, who steered 100-1 outsider Foinavon to a sensational victory in the 1967 Grand National, has died at the age of 76.
Foinavon was the only horse to escape the unprecedented melee at the 23rd fence caused by a loose horse, the ironically-named Popham Down.
Almost the entire field was either brought down or badly hampered, but Foinavon only escaped because he was so far in arrears.
By the time Foinavon had reached that obstacle, which now bears his name, there was a big enough gap for Buckingham to steer his mount through.
Seizing the opportunity of a lifetime, Buckingham and Foinavon negotiated the remaining seven fences without mishap and kept on to win the world’s greatest steeplechase by 15 lengths. It was Buckingham’s first ride in the race and neither owner Cyril Watkins nor trainer John Kempton were at Aintree to witness the unlikeliest of victories.
Buckingham served his apprenticeship with Oxfordshire trainer Edward Courage. He retired in 1971 and became a jockey’s valet. He built up the business with his brother Tom and sold it to fellow ex-jockey Chris Maude on Tom’s death in 2001.
Maude said: “He always loved going back to Aintree. When you go into the jockeys’ room scenario as a kid your valet is almost like a second family. They dress you and make sure you’re okay, patch you up and send you off again.”
Maude recalled a story Buckingham told him about the first time a fledgling Tony McCoy needed a valet’s services in England for the first time. He said: “When AP had his first ride in England, he didn’t have any gear. John Buckingham lent him a pair of boots and said. ‘You’ll have to go some to fill these, young man - they were Peter Scudamore’s’. The rest, as they say, is history.”
Trainer Jonjo O’Neill, a former champion jump jockey, tweeted: “Very sorry to hear of the passing of Johnny Buckingham. He was a top man and the heart of jockeys changing room for many years.”