Grand National honour for Royal jockey Dick Francis, the unluckiest loser in race’s history

A LIFE-SIZE statue of former wartime RAF pilot, champion jump jockey and international bestselling author Dick Francis is to be unveiled at Aintree Racecourse next week.

The late Dick Francis is to be honoured at next week's Randox Grand National meeting.
The late Dick Francis is to be honoured at next week's Randox Grand National meeting.

The permanent tribute to Francis at the home of the Randox Grand National will celebrate his remarkable life, which saw him not only ride in the world’s most famous steeplechase on eight occasions, but also play a significant role in the 1982 Grand National Appeal to purchase the racecourse, saving it from becoming a housing estate.

Francis, who died aged 89 in February 2010, subsequently spent 20 years as a Trustee and is also credited with introducing more people worldwide to British Jump racing than any other single individual, with his 42 horseracing-themed crime novels selling more than 60 million copies in 35 languages.

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Created by renowned sculptor William Newton, the bronze statue was instigated by Peter Johnson, a lifelong fine art dealer, former point-to-point rider, Dick Francis fan and founder of the British Sporting Art Trust.

Jockey and bestselling author Dick Francis.

The statue will stand at the top of the steps outside the Aintree weighing room, looking out across the parade ring and winner’s enclosure and will be unveiled by the Princess Royal.

Newton’s sculpture depicts Francis during his time as a jockey and was inspired by a photograph taken of him in the parade ring with the Queen and Queen Mother before he rode Devon Loch in the 1956 Grand National.

That race provided one of the most dramatic finishes in Grand National history when Devon Loch inexplicably fell on the flat during the run-in just 40 yards from certain victory.

Francis rode a total of 35 times at Aintree during his riding career, including in eight Grand Nationals, and won three times over the Grand National fences.

Francis, who was also inducted into Cheltenham Racecourse’s ‘Hall of Fame’ after his death, missed attending only one Grand National in the 60 years from 1947 to 2007, and acted as ‘expert summariser’ to Peter Bromley’s BBC radio commentary of the race for almost 40 years.

Jockey Club regional director Dickon White said: “Few people have done more for Aintree and the Grand National than Dick Francis.

“Not only did he play a significant role in securing the future of this racecourse and the world’s most famous steeplechase, he also introduced millions of people to our sport through his books, as well as being an extremely gifted rider himself.

“We’re delighted that his statue will look out over the paddock and winner’s enclosure as a permanent reminder of his contribution to horseracing and to Aintree.”