In his 16-year riding career, John Francome was British Champion Jump Jockey seven times, including the title he shared with Peter Scudamore in 1981/82, and notched up 1,138 winners. However, despite contesting the Grand National on ten occasions, he never won the celebrated steeplechase.
The young Francome made his debut in the National in 1972, aboard Cardinal Error, trained by his boss, Fred Winter. The eight-year-old had already won four steeplechases that year and was sent of 12/1 joint-second favourite at Aintree, but refused as early as the third fence. In 1976, Francome famously turned down the ride on the eventual winner, Rag Trade – whom he had described as the ‘most horrible horse’ he had ridden after finishing tenth, and last, in 1975 – in favour of the lesser-fancied Golden Rapper, again trained by Winter. Golden Rapper led approaching Becher’s Brook on the second circuit, but took a terrible fall and Francome woke up in the Walton Centre in Fazakerley. Francome did manage to finish a close third, beaten just 1½ lengths, behind Rubstic and Zongalero in the 1979 renewal and a remote second, beaten 20 lengths, behind Ben Nevis on the same horse in 1980, but that was the close as he came to winning the National.