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Amateur jockey’s Grand National fairytale

Amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen has enjoyed a fairytale finale to his career, steering his father’s horse Noble Yeats to the most unlikely victory in the Grand National.

The 39-year-old blue blood Corinthian Waley-Cohen, whose day job is running a series of dental practices, had announced his intention to retire on Thursday, nominating the Emmet Mullins-trained horse as his farewell ride in the world’s most famous steeplechase at Aintree.

Sent off at 50-1 on Saturday, few would have expected Noble Yeats to strike in the extended four-and-a-quarter-mile showpiece – but he ran a magnificent race as he fended off the 15-2 favourite Any Second Now for a famous success.

Coming to the last they were the only pair in contention and under a strong drive, Noble Yeats, screamed on by 70,000 spectators, kept finding more to prevail in the colours of Waley-Cohen’s father, Robert.

A jubilant Waley-Cohen, who also became the first amateur for 30 years to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Long Run in 2011, said: “I can’t say anything, it’s a dream, I couldn’t believe it.

“I’ve got to say thank you – because it’s my last ever ride – to dad. Unwavering belief and love, over 23 years and never a cross word. It’s been a love affair.

“To my wife, long-suffering. They aren’t all good days. There are bad days in this sport. She’s always here to support me.

“It’s a fairytale, it’s a fantasy. Just full of love and happiness and gratefulness.”

One of the last in a line of great gentlemen jockeys, Waley-Cohen has always been praised by the top riders for performing like a professional and his record around the formidable National fences down the years has been astonishing.

It was a record seventh win over the giant National fences for Waley-Cohen, who finished runner-up on Oscar Time in the National in 2011. He’d also finished fourth, fifth and eighth in the biggest race of the lot.

Waley-Cohen, a personal friend of Prince William and Kate Middleton, said his late brother Thomas, who died of cancer, was with him in spirit.

“I do think Thomas is sitting on my back. I ride with his name on my saddle. Today is a family day. Honestly, you couldn’t make it up, could you?”

The main storylines ahead of the first National staged with fans since 2019 revolved around two females.

Jockey Rachael Blackmore was looking to win it for a second straight year aboard Minella Times, while the horse Snow Leopardess sought to become the first mother to claim victory in the race – and the first mare since 1951.

Alas, Minella Times fell at the ninth, and Snow Leopardess pulled up around two-thirds of the way around.

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