A life-size statue of former wartime RAF Pilot, Champion Jump Jockey and international bestselling author Dick Francis was unveiled by Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal on day one of the 2022 Randox Grand National Festival today (Thursday).
The permanent tribute to Francis celebrates his remarkable life, which saw him ride in the world’s most famous steeplechase on eight occasions, and also play a significant role in the 1982 Grand National Appeal to purchase the racecourse, saving it from becoming a housing estate.
Created by renowned sculptor William Newton, the statue stands at the top of the steps outside the Aintree weighing room, looking out across the parade ring and winner’s enclosure.
The statue depicts Francis during his time as a jockey and was inspired by a photograph taken of him in the parade ring with Her Majesty The Queen and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother before he rode Devon Loch in the 1956 Grand National.
That race provided one of the most dramatic finishes in Grand National history when Devon Loch inexplicably fell on the flat during the run-in just 40 yards from certain victory.
Newton said: "I hope people enjoy the sculpture for many, many years to come. The Princess Royal asked me how long it had taken me to do it and said how much she enjoyed unveiling it and I've been very fortunate that she was responsible for unveiling two other sculptures I've done.
"It's sort of consumed me for the last nine months, but it's been a lovely journey. He was somebody, as a boy, I grew up with, reading his books. And having been a jockey myself over a few years, it was a lovely thing to do, to honour a wonderful horseman and a fearless jockey.
"He was a very special man, anyone who can live with having the greatest race in the world ripped from you five strides from the winning post and have to live with that and get on with life - it's not easy I imagine."Francis, who died aged 89 in February 2010, spent 20 years as a Trustee and is also credited with introducing more people worldwide to British Jump racing than any other single individual, with his 42 horseracing-themed crime novels selling more than 60 million copies in 35 languages.
The bronze statue was instigated by Peter Johnson, a lifelong fine art dealer, former point-to-point rider, Francis fan and founder of the British Sporting Art Trust.
Francis rode a total of 35 times at Aintree during his riding career, including in eight Grand Nationals, and won three times over the Grand National fences - in the Topham Trophy Handicap, the Molyneux Chase and in the final running of the Champion Chase in 1950 before the race was transferred to Cheltenham.
Francis, who was also inducted into Cheltenham Racecourse’s ‘Hall of Fame’ after his death, missed attending only one Grand National in the 60 years from 1947 to 2007, and acted as ‘expert summariser’ to Peter Bromley’s BBC radio commentary of the race for almost 40 years, until Bromley’s retirement in 2001.