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Sam Waley-Cohen: ‘a fairy tale, a fantasy’ at the Grand National

The amateur jockey won his last ever race riding 50-1 shot Noble Yeats

“No sign-off will ever be as complete,” said Brough Scott in The Sunday Times, as that just achieved by the winner of this Grand National. This was Sam Waley-Cohen’s very last horse race. The only amateur in a 40-strong field, the 39-year-old jockey is to retire from the sport to concentrate on his chain of upmarket dental practices. And the horse he was riding, Noble Yeats, was a 50-1 shot owned by his father, Robert. So for Waley-Cohen to describe his first – and presumably last – ever victory in jump racing’s biggest event as “a fairy tale, a fantasy” was no exaggeration. His success has single-handedly revived the all-but extinct spirit of sporting amateurism. This was a truly gruelling race with “more than its usual share of carnage” – by the end, 25 of the runners had pulled up or fallen, with two suffering fatal injuries – but Waley-Cohen on Noble Yeats battled through to the finish, beating “hardened professional” Mark Walsh on Any Second Now into second place. 

By adding the Grand National to previous wins in the Gold Cup and the King George VI Chase, Waley-Cohen can claim to be the most successful amateur jockey of all time, said The Sunday Telegraph’s Marcus Armytage – himself the last amateur to win the Grand National, 32 years ago. But maybe the victory should not have come as such a great surprise – after all, Waley-Cohen did finish second on Oscar Time in 2011. This time round, Noble Yeats produced “a dream ride” for his owner’s son; tucked behind the early leaders Coko Beach and Two For Gold, the seven-year-old novice stayed with the front pack throughout, until, at the second-last fence, the race became a straight shoot-out with the 15-2 favourite Any Second Now. “They jumped the last in unison,” said Armytage, “and were locked together up the long run in”, before the younger of the two horses began to pull away, ultimately winning by two and a quarter lengths. 

Outside of racing, Waley-Cohen is known for being the man who helped Prince William and Kate Middleton get back together after a temporary split in 2007, said the Sunday Express. And the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were among the first to tweet congratulations to their friend. There were also tributes to Thomas, Waley-Cohen’s brother, who lost his life to bone cancer at the age of 20. “I do think Thomas is sitting on my back,” said the jockey; he had his brother’s name stitched into his saddle, while his father Robert wore a wristband woven with Thomas’s initials. This story of this incredible family “will surely one day be told on the silver screen”, said Phil Thomas in The Sun. And if it is, it seems Waley-Cohen would very much like to be played by the actor Dominic West.

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