Deciding to embark on a career as a jockey takes a tremendous amount of hard work, dedication and perseverance. Deciding to ride in the Grand National – jumping 30 of the hardest jumps, during two laps over 4 miles of what is arguably one of the toughest and most widely watched horse races in the world – takes even more. Bob Champion had put his all into securing a place in this notorious race when in 1979 he was diagnosed with cancer. He was given between four and seven months to live or the chance to trial a new treatment. It was his incredible determination that drove him to enter the National in 1981 on Aldaniti – his favourite horse who had himself suffered a life threatening injury just a year earlier – and go on to win despite all of the odds being against them. Luxury Topping had the pleasure of speaking to Bob about what makes a Grand National legend and who he’ll be backing this year.How did your career path lead you to becoming a jockey?
I have always loved horses. When I was younger I did a lot of hunting, Show Jumping and Cross Country but always had the dream of being a Jockey. So when I was given the chance I jumped at the opportunity.
Who has been your most significant mentor and why?
Eddie Harty. He won the National in 1969 on Highland Wedding. He was a great jockey, he rode for Ireland and is just a lovely guy.
Your jockeying career must have taken you all over the world. Which is the most challenging racecourse you have raced?
Of all the places I have ridden, Taunton Racecourse in Somerset has to be the hardest. The camber on the bends used to feel like they were running away from you. So it was often a struggle to get around the bends!
How important is teamwork in racing?
To be honest, I just did not want to die. I always thought Aldaniti was capable of winning a National so the dream of riding the National on Aldaniti was a great motivation to keep me going.
Since winning the Grand National you have gone on to set up your own charity, the Bob Champion Cancer Trust. Tell us about your role in the Charity?
I am the President of the Charity therefore I go to most of the functions which takes me across the UK and Worldwide. The Trust is run by a fantastic team and I am grateful for all of their hard work and to all our supporters.
You are obviously very competitive in racing, are you the same in your day to day life?
I am still competitive in a sense but nowhere near what I was when I was a jockey. I have relaxed in my old age!
You won BBC Sports Personality Team of the Year Award in 1981 and the BBC Sports Personality Helen Rollason Award in 2011. Which other sports do you play in order to unwind?
I have two. The first was giving my daughter away on her wedding day. The second being all we have achieved at Bob Champion Cancer Trust. The Trust forms part of the largest male dedicated research facility in Europe. We have helped by researching the effects of cancer treatments, researching psychological support for patients and have opened the Bob Champion Lounge in the Royal Marsden NHS Trust Hospital in Sutton, Surrey for long term suffering patients amongst other achievements.
What does the future hold for you?
I am grateful to wake up every morning. I would like to continue to grow the Bob Champion Cancer Trust with the view to finally retiring somewhere warm and sunny!
Finally… I’m sure you were expecting this but how do you choose which horse will win and who will you be backing for this year’s National?
Look at the form (How they have run in their last races) and look out for fresh horses (horses who have not run that many times that Season).
For this year’s race, I am going for ‘One for Arthur’
All images courtesy the Bob Champion Caner Trust