What a way to bow out! It’s the Grand National and there’s always a big story in it, but few were expecting the fairy-tale ending to amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen’s extraordinary career.
Last Thursday, he announced that his ride on Noble Yeats in the world’s most famous steeplechase would be his last. More than two decades in the sport was enough. He’s 40 next week and it was the right time to retire.
Everyone wished him well and recounted his amazing Aintree record, but at the same time few took his chance of a perfect farewell on the Irish outsider too seriously.
He had an unmatched record of six wins over the National fences, never in the big one, but it was something to be proud of. But he was not going quietly.
Perfectly positioned going out on the final circuit and enjoying the good fortune throughout that would desert many of his opponents, most notably last year’s historic winners Minella Times and Rachael Blackmore (brought down before halfway), wily old Waley weaved his way through to join five others jumping the second last fence almost in unison.
A less than fluent leap at the last fence handed the initiative to Any Second Now and it looked for all the world that last year’s unlucky third would have his day this time.
But there are amateurs and there are amateurs and we knew how skilful and determined Waley-Cohen is yonks ago when he was driving home Long Run to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup and two King George VI Chases.
By the elbow, he had the 50-1 shot back on level terms with the favourite and by the finish it was the Corinthian celebrating the victory, although unable to claim the monetary spoils.
Grand National 2022 result – in full
- 1st: Noble Yeats (50-1)
- 2nd: Any Second Now (15-2)
- 3rd: Delta Work (10-1)
- 4th: Santini (33-1)
- 5th: Fiddlerontheroof (12-1)
- 6th: Longhouse Poet (12-1)
- 7th: Freewheelin Dylan (50-1)
- 8th: Coko Beach (50-1)
- 9th: Escaria Ten (25-1)
- 10th: Romain De Senam (125-1)
- 11th: Samcro (80-1)
- 12th: Commodore (33-1)
- 13th: Class Conti (100-1)
- 14th: Blaklion (50-1)
- 15th: Lostintranslation (50-1)
- DNF: Domaine De L’Isle, Deisa Aba, Poker Party, Anibale Fly, Top Ville Ben, De Rasher Counter, Brahma Bull, Agusta Gold, Mount Ida, Mighty Thunder, Kildisart, Death Duty, Cloth Cap, Discorama, Two For Gold, Burrows Saint, School Boy Hours, Fortescue, Dingo Dollar, Good Boy Bobby, Enjoy D’Allen, Eclair Surf, Snow Leopardess, Minella Times, Run Wild Fred
“It’s a dream, I can’t believe it,” said Waley-Cohen, as he walked Noble Yeats back past the stands and a full house of around 70,000 cheering racegoers “You just couldn’t make it up.
“As it’s my last ride, I want to say some thank yous. To dad (owner Robert, who bought Noble Yeats only eight weeks ago for this specific mission): We’ve been doing this together for 23 years and we’ve never had a cross word.
“And to my long-suffering wife Bella. It’s not all good days. There are bad days as well and she has always been there to support me.”
Waley-Cohen also had thoughts for his late brother Thomas, who died of cancer in 2004, aged just 20. “I do feel that Thomas is riding on my back. I have his initials on my saddle and I always think about him on these days.”
And we shouldn’t forget the horse in all of this. Noble Yeats is the first seven-year-old (the youngest age eligible these days) to win the National since 1940. He’s actually still a novice, having not even run over fences until last October.
It was another one-two-three for the Irish, although the winning trainer was new, even if his name is most familiar. Emmet Mullins, a nephew of multiple champion Willie, made a huge impression with the prolific The Shunter on these shores last season.
But this was something else.