John Francome John Francome MBE is often labelled, demeaningly, as ‘the best jockey never to have won the Grand National’. Nevertheless, between December 2, 1970, when he rode his first winner, Multigrey, at Worcester, and April 8, 1985, when he rode his last, Gambler’s Cup, at Huntingdon, Francome racked up 1,138 victories – in so doing, becoming the most successful jockey, numerically, in the history of British National Hunt racing – and won the jockeys’ title seven times.

 

Francome was Champion Jockey for the first time in 1975/1976, the season in which he won the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Lanzarote, and again in 1978/79, the season in which he won his one and only Cheltenham Gold Cup on Midnight Court. He was also Champion Jockey for five seasons running between 1980/81 and 1984/85 although, in 1981/82, he shared the jockeys’ title with Peter Scudamore, after graciously refusing to ride once he drew level with his arch rival, who’d broken his arm as the result of a fall at Southwell in late April.

 

Francome was employed by Frederick Thomas ‘Fred’ Winter, at Uplands Stables in Lambourn, Berkshire, for his entire career as a jockey and, together, they enjoyed many great days. At the Cheltenham Festival, aside from the Gold Cup with Midnight Court, they also won the Sun Alliance Chase twice, with Pengrail in 1975 and Brown Chamberlin in 1982, the now-defunct Cathcart Challenge Cup twice, with Roller Coaster in 1979 and Observe in 1983 and the Stayers’ Hurdle with Derring Rose and the Grand Annual Chase with Friendly Alliance, both in 1981.

 

In 1981, Francome also won the Champion Hurdle on Sea Pigeon, trained by Peter Easterby, showing amazing restraint to ride the 11-year-old for a turn of foot. Replacing the injured Jonjo O’Neill, Francome delayed his effort until well after the final flight but, in an outrageous act of derring-do, still won comfortably under hands and heels. In his title-winning years, Francome also won the Hennessy Gold Cup twice, on Brown Chamberlin, trained by Winter, in 1983 and Burrough Hill Lad, trained by Jenny Pitman, in 1984 and the King George VI Chase twice, on Wayward Lad, trained by Michael Dickinson, in 1982 and Burrough Hill Lad in 1984.

Graham Thorner Graham Edward Thorner, known in some quarters as ‘Whanger’ because of his uncompromising riding style, is probably best remembered as the jockey of the well-weighted, and well-backed, Well To Do, winner of the Grand National in 1972. What is perhaps less well-remembered, though, is that, at the time of his Grand National victory – the first of three for his boss, Captain Timothy Arthur “Tim” Forster – Thorner was, in fact, the reigning Champion Jockey.

 

Born in 1949, Thorner showed a keen interest in horse racing and joined Forster at Old Manor House Stables, in Letcombe Bassett, near Wantage, Oxfordshire straight from school, at the age of 15, in 1964. He rode his first winner, Longway, at Newton Abbott in 1966 and, having turned professional the following season, became Champion Jockey for the one and only time in 1970/71, with 74 winners. Thorner enjoyed a successful association with Forster until his retirement in 1979, by which time he had ridden 650 winners in total. Nevertheless, the relationship between trainer and jockey lacked intimacy, although Forster did later concede, “It was perfectly obvious from the beginning that he [Thorner] was going to be a fine rider.”

 

Thorner recorded some notable successes, at the Cheltenham Festival and elsewhere, and was probably a little unlucky not to have ridden at least one Cheltenham Gold Cup winner. His major winners for Forster included Mocharabuice in the Mildmay of Flete Challenge Cup in 1972, Denys Adventure in the Arkle Challenge Trophy in 1973, Royal Marshall II in the Hennessy Gold Cup in 1974 and Casbah in the Grand Annual Chase in 1979. Thorner won the Arkle Challenge Trophy again in 1978 on Alverton, trained by Peter Easterby – who would, of course, win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1979 – and, with the initial running of the Cheltenham Gold Cup postponed until April because of snow, also rode the eventual winner, Midnight Court, in his preparatory race at Chepstow. Midnight Court won but, had he jumped well, Thorner would have kept the ride in the Gold Cup.

Bob Davies In recent years, until his retirement, at the age of 72, in May, 2018, Robert Bertram ‘Bob’ Davies was best known for his work at Ludlow Racecourse, Shropshire, where he fulfilled a variety of roles, including clerk of the course, general manager and company secretary, for a period of 35 years. Davies is probably best remembered as the jockey of Lucius, winner of the Grand National in 1978 and, arguably, one of the best ‘spare’ rides in history.

 

In the absence of his stable jockey, David Goulding, who had injured his back in a fall at Wetherby five days before the National, Greystoke trainer Gordon W. Richards offered the ride on Lucius to Ron Barry; Barry declined, in the grounds that he had already agreed to ride Forest King, trained by Ken Hogg, but put in a good word for Davies and the rest, as they say, in history. In a rough-and-tumble race, Davies and Lucius tackled the leader, Sebastien, passing the Elbow and, in a pulsating finish, held on to win by half a length and a neck.

 

Davies rode the first of his 912 winners under National Hunt Rules, Ellen’s Pleasure, at Newton Abbott in April, 1966 and enjoyed a stellar career, during which he became Champion Jockey three times. On the first occasion, in 1968/69 – the season in which he won the Mildmay of Flete Challenge Cup at the Cheltenham Festival on Specify, trained by Denis Rayson – he shared the jockeys’ title with Terry Biddlecombe, on 77 winners apiece. The following season, in which he won the Imperial Cup on Solomon II, trained by David Barons, Davies won the jockeys’ title outright, with 91 winners, and did so again in 1971/72, with 89 winners.

 

In the latter years of his career, aside from the Grand National, Davies also won the Grand Annual Chase on Dulwich, trained by Colin Davies, in 1976, and the Gainsborough Chase and the Great Yorkshire Chase on Tragus, trained by David Morley, in 1981.

Scobie Breasley The late Arthur Edward ‘Scobie’ Breasley, who died in 2006 at the age of 92 after suffering a stroke, was arguably the best jockey Australia has ever produced. Born in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, shortly before the outbreak of World War I, Breasley earned his nickname at an early age, when described by a family friend as ‘a right little Scobie’, in reference to pre-eminent Australian trainer James Scobie.

 

Breasley was Champion Jockey of Victoria three years running, in 1944, 1945 and 1946, before, in 1950, accepting a contract to ride for Noel Cannon, private trainer to James Voase ‘Jimmy’ Rank, chairman of what became Rank Hovis McDougall, at Druid Lodge Stables, near Salisbury. The following season Breasley won his first British Classic, the 2,000 Guineas, on King Mi, trained by Michael Beary but, dissatisfied with his treatment by Pat Rank, the wife of his employer – and an inveterate, but hardly equanimous, gambler – he returned to Australia in 1952.

 

He stayed long enough to win a record fifth Caulfield Cup on Peshawar, trained by Pat Quinlan, but was soon lured back to England by John Arthur ‘Lucky’ Dewar, the new senior patron at Druid Lodge Stables. In 1954, Breasley won the 1,000 Guineas on Festoon, owned by Dewar and trained by Cannon. However, at the end of the 1955 season, having turned down an offer to succeed Sir Gordon Richards as stable jockey to Sir Noel Murless, Breasley joined Richards himself, now a trainer, at Ogbourne Maizey Stables, near Marlborough Wiltshire.

 

In 1957, Breasley won the jockeys’ title for the first time with 173 winners, in so doing becoming the first Australian since Frank Wootton, in 1912, to be crowned Champion Jockey. He did, nevertheless, suffer the irritation of finishing behind Crepello, trained by Murless and ridden by his now stable jockey, Lester Piggott, in the 2,000 Guineas and the Derby.

 

Breasley finished runner-up to Doug Smith in the jockeys’ championship in 1958 and 1959, and to Piggott in 1960, before becoming Champion Jockey again in 1961, 1962 and 1963, with 171, 179 and 176 winners, respectively. His final jockeys’ title, which he won at the age of 49, was achieved at the expense of Piggott, who he beat by a score of 176-175 on the final day of the season. In 1958, Breasley won the Eclipse Stakes, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes – and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe – on Ballymoss and, in 1964 and 1966, the Derby, on Santa Claus and Charlottown, but was never Champion Jockey again.