Dick Francis’ sons mark 60th anniversary of Welsh race win

Dec 27 2009 by Clare Hutchinson, Wales On Sunday

DICK Francis still remembers how he surged ahead at the 13th fence on his horse, Fighting Line, to win the first Welsh Grand National to be held at Chepstow.

Dick Francis on his mount Fighting Line
on which he won the first Welsh Grand National
Held at Chepstow, as Wales has no 
Race Course of stature.
Thus it makes use of the Monmouthshire Course!

Sixty years to the day, his sons will be turf-side tomorrow to mark the anniversary of the horseman-turned-author’s famous victory.

After winning the Welsh National, Lawrenny-born Francis went on to become champion jockey in 1953-54 before he turned his hand to thriller writing, producing 41 novels and topping the bestseller lists.

The 89 year old, who has suffered from three years of ill-health with major heart surgery and a leg amputation, now lives in the Cayman Islands.

His son Felix now co-authors his father’s best-selling equestrian thrillers, the latest of which he is still working on.

And tomorrow he will be at the biggest race of the Welsh calendar with his brother, Merrick, who runs the UK’s largest racehorse transfer business.

“I wasn’t born until four years after my father won that race, but I think it was quite a big deal for him,” said Felix.

“He won it again in 1956 on Crudwell and I remember that very well because all my life on his mantelpiece was a clock given to him by the horse’s owner, a Mrs Cooper, with one of the horse shoes that he wore in the race on the front of it.”

For Dick Francis, horse racing was the family business. His father Vincent, who was an amateur jockey, took part in the Welsh National when it was held in Cardiff and his grandfather was also an amateur jockey.

“Obviously it is his life,” said Felix, speaking from Surrey where he was spending Christmas with his family.

“When he was young he was a bit of a child prodigy of a horseman. His dad was a horse dealer – a bit like a car dealer now – and my father would travel around the country taking part in horse shows and posting his trophies home as he went.

“He was 18 and looking into becoming a jockey when war broke out, and when he was 19 he joined the RAF and was posted to north Africa.”

After racking up an impressive collection of war medals flying Spitfires and Lancaster Bombers, Francis left the RAF when the war ended to go back to his original dream of riding race winners.

Three years later, he won the Welsh National on Fighting Life.

The “big race” said Felix, was in 1956, when Francis rode the Queen Mother’s horse, Devon Loch, in the Grand National. His fame spread worldwide when the horse tripped just yards from the finish line, sending Francis sprawling and losing him that year’s title.

“That race dominated his whole life after that,” said Felix. “It took my father’s name from the back pages to the front pages and when he retired from racing the following year everyone was asking him what he was going to do.”

Francis took up an offer to write a racing column for a London newspaper before branching out into his distinctive equestrian thrillers, producing a novel a year for the next 38 years.

When his wife Mary died aged 76 in 2000, Francis stopped writing, but returned to it in 2006 with the first of the books he has co-written with his son.

“My brother and I grew up riding ponies and he would shout out of the window at us to get our heels down and our elbows in, but to be honest I’m of the mind that both ends are dangerous and the middle’s uncomfortable,” said Felix.

“Despite that I do love viewing horses from a distance and hopefully I can join my brother in Chepstow.

“My father often talks about his racing days and of course that life features strongly in his books.”

To view the original article CLICK HERE

As an interesting aside I understand that in their early days as visitors to Chepstow both Dick Francis & Sir Gordon Richards were both in the habit of taking rooms in what is now my home but just before and shortly after WWII what was Glance Back Books and my home was in part a bed and breakfast venue for the races.

cnr. Middle & Upper Church Streets,
NP16 5ET

Initially stable lads and junior jockeys would stay here rather than the more resplendent Beaufort Hotel or The George Hotel or even The St. Mary’s Hotel subsequently an ice cream parlour owned by The Giles Family in the days when the back yard was the Chepstow Boxing Club a facility which Marion Izzard ended when she and her husband owned it as a green grocer and when he repaired to Ireland she continued to run the business as a Green Grocers until Michael had finished his education when she sub let it initially to continue the trade but more recently as ‘rooming’ above and a trendy hairdressers in the shop area.

I gather many of the young apprentices continued to stay in our rooms long after they had made names for themselves commensurate with upgrading 😉

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