Waley-Cohen recalls moment dreams came true
Sam Waley-Cohen signed off his career in the saddle with an incredible Grand National success at Aintree in April 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 really was a blockbuster tale as Waley-Cohen steered the Emmet Mullins-trained Noble Yeats to Aintree glory at odds of 50/1 in the colours of his father, Robert Waley-Cohen.
After a summer of reflection, Waley-Cohen Jr admits he was ‘in a bubble’ of joy for some weeks after the race at Aintree.
Back to the day job
The CEO of Portman Dental Care, Waley-Cohen is back at work now and, in a competitive sense at least, has hung up his riding gear for the last time.
He announced at Aintree some 48 hours before the Grand National that the race would be his last, and he said that decision was taken well in advance.
“I decided a few weeks before that was going to be my last race,” he told Dentistry.co.uk.
“I made an announcement on Thursday in the amateur version of the Grand National…the Foxhunters – that’s once around the track.
“After that I was going to retire on Saturday in the National. So I was already committed that was going to be the last time racing in public.”
Getting into the winning headspace
Waley-Cohen was of course no stranger to success on the biggest stage. In 2011 he partnered the Nicky Henderson-trained Long Run – again in his father’s colours – to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
He says the day of a big race is one for quiet contemplation and preparation for the test in store.
“It’s the people’s race, everyone’s excited,” he said. “Everybody that you know or have ever met or have a connection to spots you and asks how you’re going to get on and all that sort of thing.
“You have all day wandering around, you walk the course. You try to keep yourself calm and there’s always quite a bit of media to do before the race.
“Then a couple of hours before, you go and really try to get in the zone and get focused ready for the race.”
Keeping tabs on the emotion
The run from the final fence to the winning post in the Aintree National can feel like an eternity.
Waley-Cohen felt the adrenaline rush coming from the crowds roars and said he had to ‘knuckle down’ to complete the job.
The emotion was palpable afterwards having achieved a lifetimes’ ambition – but he was conscious of completing his duties to ensure there was no sad postscript to the win.
“There’s a lot of emotion, it’s a dream. As a schoolboy, I’d literally dreamt about it,” he adds.
“To be there to do it, you just feel incredible. Thanks one to the horse, but also everyone that’s helped you, not just on that day but throughout your career.
“But actually as a jockey your job isn’t done. You still have a lot of responsibility for the welfare of the horse – is the horse okay?
“While everybody is celebrating and you are in your heart, in your mind you’re thinking look after the horse, make sure he’s ok to get in and weighed.
“If he doesn’t weigh right you lose the race. Your job isn’t done at that point, so you’re balancing those two emotions.”