Grand National Festival 2022: Bob Champion on 1981 win and his top tip

Bob Champion beat cancer to win the 1981 Grand National on Aldaniti. Planet Sport's Jonathan Doidge caught up with the legendary jockey to remember that glorious day and get his tips for this year

It's been 41 years since Bob Champion became a sporting icon, beating testicular cancer and guiding a horse with crippling injuries around Aintree to win the Grand National.

"My orders were to hold him up until the last fence. It must have been the best run around the Canal Turn than any jockey in the history of the race. I was in front and I'm thinking of the rollicking I'm getting in the stands from the governor so I'm starting to think of excuses!" he told Planet Sport.

The legendary jockey caught up with Planet Sport's Jonathan Doidge to remember this magical race, and provide some thoughts on this year's event.

Aintree fate

He agreed his victory in 1981 had been "meant to be" considering his recent cancer treatment and the leg injuries Aldaniti had struggled with.

"It was a warm sunny day and I was always very confident in wind," Champion said. "I went at the first three times actually - I fell at Becher's Brook in one year - but I had 10 rides and got round five times so my record wasn't too bad!

"Josh Gifford, my trainer, had a difficult job because he was a difficult horse because he used to pull very hard. He had hands like silk and he could relax him at home. If he hadn't ridden him out that day I don't think he'd have got to the course.

"When he broke down the last time the vets wanted to put him down - he was so bad. But the owners said no. They remarked I'd said I'd win a National one day - I don't know why they believed me! He had stood in a box for six months tied up and he couldn't lie down. It would have sent anything crazy.

"He came out at Ascot and they didn't run him in the Gold Cup thankfully because he couldn't have handled two races. The National was always the plan and he came up A1 and 110%."

Aldaniti and Bob Champion formed a formidable partnership at Aintree

Wobbly start

"We nearly went at the first and second," added Champion. "He had a tendency to over-jump, but he paddled along on his two front legs and his back end came down. He just got his brain working and popped away really well.

"After that he was a joy to ride. I jumped the third last and I was going really nicely. The ground was terrible and very tacky and that was the most worrying part for me and I just hoped his legs would stand.

"Josh had told me to just keep hold of his head and don't get silly. I had to hold him together. Going to the last I couldn't see a stride and he was tired. If I stood him off I'd be an idiot so I let him drift into the corner and we just ran to the line.

"I gave him one crack. Josh didn't like me hitting horses - two was your limit - we got to the elbow and I knew nothing would get by me. The horse just stayed there - he had so much guts."

Champion's Grand National tips

And who is Bob fancying for this year's race?

"Last year's winner Minella Times has got his work cut out. This year will be very open," Champion said.

"Longhouse Poet has a great chance. He won nicely in Ireland and he's come here fresh. He is great value but it will be very open."

Read more: Check out our full guide to the 2022 Grand National Festival

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