Amateur rider Sam Waley-Cohen made his last ride a memorable one as he won the world’s greatest steeplechase, the Grand National, on 50-1 shot Noble Yeats at Aintree on Saturday.
Waley-Cohen — who turns 40 next Friday — had ridden six winners over the National fences prior to Saturday but he reserved his greatest moment until last.
Waley-Cohen jumped the last alongside 15/2 favourite Any Second Now but Noble Yeats found extra in the demanding run-in to record a fairytale ending to the jockey’s career.
Waley-Cohen stood up in his saddle — which bears the initials of his brother Tom who died of cancer in 2004 — waved his whip in celebration and paid a handsome tribute to his father Robert, who bought the horse only in February.
Noble Yeats also became the first seven-year-old to win the National since Bogskar in 1940.
“I want to say thank you to dad. He never wavered, never a cross word,” said Waley-Cohen.
“I also have a long suffering wife (Bella). It’s a fantasy… I just feel love, happiness and gratitude for being on the right horses.”
Waley-Cohen, who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2011, said it was a great moment for his whole family.
“These days are big family days, and obviously Thomas isn’t with us, so you always think about him on these days,” said Waley-Cohen, who is the first amateur jockey to win both the ‘blue riband’ Gold Cup and the National.
“I still always ride with his initials on my saddle.”
His father was in tears.
“It is a dream come true,” said Waley-Cohen. “It is a team effort and thank God it has really worked.
“It takes dedication, hard work and is absolutely fabulous. He has dreamed of winning this ever since he sat on a rocking horse in the nursery.
“His love affair with the sport goes back to then.”
– ‘Like a shot!” –
Although English owned and ridden it was an Irish-trained winner with Emmett Mullins — the nephew of Irish training legend Willie — almost forgotten in the aftermath despite winning the race with his first ever runner.
“It will be hard to improve on that!” said Mullins. “This was the long term plan and it has come to fruition.
“The form gave us confidence but the man to talk to is the man who rode him.
“I am just glad I repaid the faith the Waley-Cohens showed in me.”
Emphasising the family nature of their effort, Sam ushered up Bella and their two children, Scarlett and Max, to the podium for the prize-giving ceremony.
“Sam has always been knocking on the door of winning the National (his best previous result second in 2011),” said Bella.
As for whether the celebrations might last long into the night, Bella said there could be a special guest.
“My sister Chloe had a baby last week but she said if he won she would be up here like a shot!”
While Sam Waley-Cohen is now free to oversee his dentistry practice, he and his wife could face some anxious times ahead with Max.
“I am really proud, it’s like a dream but it is not,” said Max.
“Now Robbie (his cousin) wants to be a jumps jockey and I want to be a flat jockey.”
Any Second Now lost nothing in defeat, improving from last year’s third-place effort, whilst Delta Work completed an Irish 1-2-3.
Defending champion Minella Times was one of many of the fancied runners who failed to get round, Rachael Blackmore’s mount falling at the ninth fence when in the back of the field.
Mare Snow Leopardess was pulled up before they went out for a second go at the fences.
Mullins’s fellow trainer Ciaran Murphy was also having his first runner in the race but it only lasted one fence as the favoured Enjoy D’Allen fell.
Another that went early on was Eclair Surf, who came to grief at the third and, along with the pulled up Discorama, were being assessed by vets over concerns for their health.
Just 15 of the 40 who set out finished.