Celebrated author and champion jockey Dick Francis dies aged 89

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  • Dick Francis, champion National Hunt jockey-turned award-winning crime author died yesterday, Sunday 14 February, at home in the Cayman Islands, aged 89.

    Richard Stanley Francis was born on 31 October 1920 in Pembrokeshire into a racing family and learned to ride almost before he could walk.

    He always wanted to work with horses and left school at 15 without any qualifications. During World War II Dick hoped to go into the Cavalry but ended up as an RAF pilot instead.

    Dick got his professional jockey’s licence in 1948 and worked for Peter Cazalet, who trained several of the Queen Mother’s horses.

    In his 12-year career he rode 345 winners and was champion jockey in 1953-54.

    As a jockey Dick fractured his skull, suffered six broken collarbones, broke his nose five times and broke countless ribs.

    He retired from racing after a heavy fall in 1957 and became the racing correspondent for the Sunday Express until 1973.

    But as a jockey he is undoubtedly best known for his ride on the Queen Mother’s Devon Loch in the 1956 Grand National.

    The horse, which was well clear on the home straight, mysteriously collapsed on his belly and sprawled, legs spread-eagled just yards before the winning post.

    It remains unknown what happened — whether perhaps the horse suffered an attack of cramp, was spooked by the roar of the crowd, tried to jump a shadow or merely slipped.

    It was Dick’s eighth and final ride in the race. The Queen Mother is reported to have just said: “That’s racing”.

    But Dick said that without Devon Loch he might have never written a book, as the incident led to him recording his memoirs in The Sport of Queens — a non-fiction account of life as jockey.

    His first novel, Dead Cert was published in 1962.

    With the help of his wife Mary, whom he married in 1947, and in recent years his son Felix, he wrote 42 crime thrillers set in the world of racing. He sold over 60million books worldwide and won several crime writing awards.

    His final book — Cross Fire — will be released later this year.

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