Forty years ago, Bob Champion and Aldaniti produced a fairytale finish to the 1981 Grand National that has become Aintree legend. Against all the odds, Bob rode the white-faced chestnut to an emotional victory after recovering from cancer, while Aldaniti had made a miraculous recovery from a leg injury.
“I was always very confident of winning,” said Bob when he talked to H&H magazine’s racing editor Jennifer Donald on episode 52 of The Horse & Hound Podcast.
“I’d had 10 rides before and got round five times and every time I went down to the start I thought I’d win, but never really thought it seriously. But that year I really did – I thought it was a formality.
“The Guv’nor [trainer Josh Gifford] said to me: ‘Hold Aldaniti up until the last fence’ – the way we always used to ride him. So we jumped off [at the start] and Aldaniti over-jumped the first fence, he was awful at the second and stood off too far – but then he realised the fences were a bit bigger and he really got his act together.
“I can remember I jumped Becher’s in about 29th position, where I should have been, but we must have had the best run round the Canal Turn that any jockey in the history of the race has had, because three fences later at Valentine’s – which is three-and-a-half miles from home – I jumped to the front. So I spent the next three-and-a-half miles thinking of the rollicking I’m getting in the stands from the Guv’nor so I’d better start thinking of excuses!
“Coming to the last fence, it was the only fence I couldn’t see a stride — he was getting a bit tired – and I’m thinking if I stand him off and deck him I’m going to look an idiot, so I better just let him drift into the corner and pop. Thankfully I chose that method and got away from the fence pretty sharp. John Thorne [riding Spartan Missile] came to me at the Elbow but as soon as I hit the running rail I was going away and won about three lengths. Another 100 yards I’d have won 10 lengths – I just knew the old horse could keep galloping.”
Bob describes the great Aldaniti as “150% genuine”.
“Although he spent more time standing in plaster in his stable, than he ever did in training!” he remembered.
To mark the 40th anniversary of his momentous win in the Grand National, Bob recently completed a 191-mile walk, raising thousands of pounds for his charity The Bob Champion Cancer Trust. Bob even returned to the saddle for the first time in a decade.
“The final day at Findon [home of the Giffords, where Aldaniti was trained] was absolutely fantastic,” said Bob. “I hadn’t sat on a horse for 10 years, so I thought ‘I hope to God it’s quiet’ but I had a lovely chestnut horse, who was a Christian actually, and we cantered up the gallops and it brought back memories — I hadn’t forgotten what to do and I didn’t get run away with either!”
You can listen to more from the legendary Bob Champion on episode 52 of The Horse & Hound Podcast or search “The Horse & Hound Podcast” in your favourite podcast app.