Did John Francome ever win the Grand National?

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.

Which jockey holds the record for the highest number of Cheltenham Festival winners in a single year?

The jockey who holds the record for the highest number of Cheltenham Festival winners in a single year is Rupert ‘Ruby’ Walsh. Walsh retired from the saddle on May 1, 2019, just two weeks shy of his fortieth birthday but, by the end of his career, had ridden a total of 59 Cheltenham Festival winners and become leading jockey at the Festival on 11 occasions between 2004 and 2017. Walsh rode his first Cheltenham Festival winner on Alexander Banquet in the Champion Bumper, as an 18-year-old amateur, in 1998 but, as a professional, rode seven winners over the four days of the Festival not once, but twice.

His first record-breaking haul came in 2009, when his notable winners included Master Minded in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Big Buck’s in the World Hurdle, now the Stayers’ Hurdle, and Kauto Star in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, all for Paul Nicholls. Of course, Walsh and Nicholls parted company in 2013, with Walsh choosing to concentrate on riding for Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins. However, the end of one of the most successful partnerships in the history of National Hunt racing did Walsh little harm as far as the Cheltenham Festival was concerned. Indeed, in 2016, Walsh equalled his own record by riding seven winners, all trained by Mullins, at the Festival. Notable winners that year included Douvan in the Arkle Challenge Trophy, Annie Power in the Champion Hurdle and the ill-fated Vautour in the Ryanair Chase.

Was Paul Nicholls once a jockey?

Nowadays, Paul Nicholls is best known as the eleven-time winner of the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship, with over 3,000 winners, including 45 Cheltenham Festival winners and a Grand National winner, to his name. It would be fair to say that Nicholls is a familiar, if rather portly, figure on British racecourses in his trademark tweed coat with a velvet collar, but he was, in his younger days, an accomplished National Hunt jockey.

In a seven-year riding career, Nicholls rode a respectable 133 winners, but was most closely associated with the late David Barons, for whom he was stable jockey between 1986 and his retirement, due to injury, in 1989. Indeed, it was for Barons that Nicholls recorded back-to-back victories in the Hennessy Gold Cup – now the Ladbrokes Trophy – at Newbury on Broadheath in 1986 and Playschool in 1987. Remarkably, Broadheath carried just 10st 5lb and Playschool just 10st 8lb.

However, in an interview long after his retirement from the saddle, Nicholls admitted that he often resorted to ‘cheating’, by constantly taking diuretic pills, known in racing circles as ‘pee pills’, to keep his weight down, or fiddling the scales when weighing out or in. He also admitted to having been close to anorexia during his career as a jockey.

Which jockey, who retired in 2017, was placed in seven consecutive Grand Nationals?

Whether finishing in the first four in the Grand National seven years running, without ever winning the world famous steeplechase, is an enviable, or unenviable, record is really a matter of opinion, but the jockey who did just that was Paul Moloney. Having hung up his riding boots in 2017, Moloney joined a list of exceptional jockeys, including the John Francome, Jonjo O’Neill, Peter Scudamore and, of course, Richard Johnson – although the latter is still trying, after 21 attempts, so far – never to have won the Grand National. Moloney, himself, failed to complete the course on his first four attempts in the National but, thereafter, his record was remarkable.

Moloney achieved all seven placings aboard three horses, all saddled by Vale of Glamorgan trainer Evan Williams and all carrying the familiar blue colours of William and Angela Rucker. His sequence began with State Of Play, who finished fourth behind Mon Mome in 2009, third behind Don’t Push It in 2010, and fourth, again, behind Ballabriggs in 2011. In 2012, Cappa Bleu, described by Moloney as ‘an absolute armchair ride’, picked upon the baton, finishing fourth, yet again, behind Neptune Collonges and, in 2013, finished second behind Auroras Encore. Next it was the turn of the quirky, but talented, Alvarado, who finished fourth behind both Pineau De Re in 2014 and Many Clouds in 2015.

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