The Grand National invariably throws up a story and in 2022, for the second year running, that story was more about the winning jockey than the winning horse. Players on https://www.robinroo.org/en will know all about winning, and that interest no doubt extents to the sporting world. The jockey in question was, of course, amateur Sam Waley-Cohen who, six days short of his fortieth birthday, was taking his final ride before retirement. Waley-Cohen had finished second in the 2011 Grand National on Oscar Time and fourth on the same horse in the 2013 renewal, not to mention winning Foxhunters’ Open Hunters’ Chase three times, in 2005, 2006 and 2014, the Topham Chase twice, in 2006 and 2015 and the Becher Chase once, in 2014. The latter victory came aboard Oscar Time who was, by that stage, a 13-year-old.
In the modern era, Waley-Cohen boasts a record over the Grand National fences that is second to none, so it was fitting that he should end his career with victory in the world famous steeplechase. Whther in racing, or casino south africa, we all accept that the path to winning isn’t always a straight line, or formality. His mount, Noble Yeats, was bought privately by his father, Robert, just before the publication of the Grand National weights in mid-February. At that point, Waley-Cohen Snr said, ‘Noble Yeats has the right profile. He’s an improving young horse who gets three miles and could well get further.’
His judgement proved to be spot on; although largely ignored in the betting market, Noble Yeats made steady headway to dispute the lead at the second-last fence before getting the better of a ding-dong battle with the favourite, Any Second Now, on the run-in to win by 2¼ lengths. Trainer Emmet Mullins, who was winning the Grand National at the first attempt, heaped praise on Waley-Cohen. He said, ‘Having Sam on him was a huge asset, it was probably the winning or losing of the race. I’m not sure many other jockeys would have won on him.’