Who Was Dick Francis?

In later life, Richard ‘Dick’ Francis found fame as a best-selling author of crime fiction, known for his formulaic, but nonetheless realistic, stories. That realism should come as no surprise, though, because before turning to fiction, Francis was a successful National Hunt jockey. He started his riding career, as an amateur, in 1946, before turning professional two years later. Between 1953 and 1957, Francis rode horses owned by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and trained by Peter Cazalet and, in 1953/54, shared the National Hunt jockeys’ title with Fred Rimmell.

As a jockey, the most dramatic incident of Francis’ career occurred at Aintree on March 24, 1956, during the running of the Grand National. His mount, Devon Loch, safely negotiated all 30 fences and, on the run-in, held a 5-length lead over his nearest pursuer, ESB. Approaching the wings of the Water Jump – which is ommitted on the second circuit of the Grand National – Devon Loch suddenly fly-jumped into the air and collapsed to the ground, allowing ESB to win unchallenged.

Various theories have been put forward for the mishap, but Francis was of the opinion that, granted that Devon Loch recovered quickly, ‘cramp seemed the only solution’. However, what really happened to Devon Loch remains an abiding mystery, worthy of one of Francis’ novels.