Waley-Cohen fairytale goes to the wire
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Sam Waley-Cohen signed off his career in the saddle with an incredible Grand National success at Aintree that even a Hollywood scriptwriter might struggle to come up with.
The amateur jockey, riding in his last competitive contest, won the world’s most famous race.
It was a tale barely believable, but that’s what transpired as Waley-Cohen steered the Emmet Mullins-trained Noble Yeats to Aintree glory at odds of 50/1.
They held off big-race favourite Any Second Now in a pulsating finish to the marathon race before Waley-Cohen basked in the setting sunlight of his excellent career in the saddle.
Dream farewell for Sam
The rider, who only announced his decision to quit the saddle two days earlier, was riding Noble Yeats in his father’s colours, Robert Waley-Cohen.
The horse was purchased earlier this season with the intention of a Grand National challenge.
Last summer, Trainer Mullins and former owner Paul Byrne hatched the plan to target the Aintree race, but the Waley-Cohen’s purchased Noble Yeats as the Grand National countdown intensified.
“It’s a dream – it feels like a fantasy, and I just don’t know what to say,” was the immediate reaction from the winning rider.
Mullins became the second-youngest trainer ever to win the Grand National – after only Gordon Elliott – with what was his first runner in the race.
Incredible amateur career
Sam Waley-Cohen is no stranger to winning on the biggest stage. Despite only having around 30 rides a year in races against professionals, he has a remarkable CV.
He famously won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2011 for his father on the Nicky Henderson-trained Long Run. He also won the Grade 1, King George VI Chase, at Kempton twice on the same horse.
When he’s not riding horses, Waley-Cohen is a hugely successful entrepreneur with a chain of 250 dental practices in five countries, employing a total of 4,000 people.
Sam went to boarding school with Kate Middleton, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were amongst those to congratulate him on social media for his big-race win.
Reflecting on his final success and the suggestion his career would make a great film, Waley-Cohen put forward actor Dominic West – star of The Wire – as the man that would portray him on the big screen.
Tribute to much-missed sibling
The Grand National winner also paid tribute to his younger brother Thomas, who died aged 20 of bone cancer in 2004.
Any big-race adventure is a family occasion for the Waley-Cohens, and, while no longer with them, the rider says his younger sibling is there in spirit at all times.
“These days are big family days, and obviously Thomas isn’t with us, so you always think about him on these days. I still always ride with his initials on my saddle. I do think he is sitting on my back,” he added.