Noble Yeats was not considered a serious contender in the 2022 Grand National. The seven year old was considered too young and too inexperienced (the last time a horse this young won the Grand National was in 1940!). But the Grand National is nothing but unpredictable. Two of the favorites failed to finish. Last year’s winner Minella Times, ridden by Rachael Blackmore, fell at the Valentine’s Brook fence and Snow Leopardess pulled up before the second circuit. Of the 40 horses that started, only 15 crossed the finish line. Another favorite, Any Second Now, finished second in a battle to the end.
For the Waley-Cohen family, who own Noble Yeats, the race was a fairy tale come true. Renowned amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen announced a few days before the race that he would retire after the Grand National on his 40th birthday after 20 years as Britain’s leading amateur jockey. What a way to end your career!
“I can’t say anything, it’s a dream, I couldn’t believe it,” Waley-Cohen told ITV.
I’ve got to say thank you — because it’s my last ever ride — to dad. Unwavering belief and love, over 23 years and never a cross word. It’s been a love affair.
Waley-Cohen said his late brother Thomas, who died of bone cancer at age 20, was with him in spirit.
“I do think Thomas is sitting on my back. I ride with his name on my saddle,” he added. “Today is a family day. Honestly, you couldn’t make it up, could you?”
The Waley-Cohen family bought Noble Yeats in February of this year. The gelding is trained by Emmet Mullins.
Amateurs vs Professional Jockeys
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, amateur, or ‘gentleman’, riders regularly participated in, and won, the Grand National. However, throughout the twentieth century, as National Hunt racing became more commercialized, amateur participation in the Grand National dwindled. These days, amateur riders in the Grand National are few and far between. In fact, the last amateur rider to win the big race was Marcus Armytage, who set the still-standing course record of 8:47.80, when winning on Mr. Frisk in 1990.
While Waley-Cohen only logged around 30 races a year against professionals, his accomplishments as a National Hunt rider were significant. He has won the King George VI Chase twice and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Now he is the first amateur rider to win bothe Gold cup and the Grand National, both on 7 year old horses.
Fatalities Mar the Race
Sadly, two horses suffered injuries during the race that caused them to be euthanized. Discorama suffered an injury to his pelvis and Eclair Surf suffered a head injury. This was the first time since 2012 that two horses have died. Since then significant efforts have been made to improve the safety of the race. Nearly half of all the fatalities at the Grand National occurred between 2000 and 2012.