The year was 1956, The owner was HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, The Jockey was Dick Francis and the horse was Devon Loch. All this added up to what should have been a happy occasion but fate got in the way and another grand national story was entered in the history books.
Devon Loch was not favorite on that day because two past winners and a future winner were in the race but never the less the horse was fancied by his connections having showed his ability by wining twice that year and also running up a good third at Cheltenham that season.
All looked good for his crack at the title. His progress was helped when two of the market leaders fell at the first both Must ( the favourite ) and also Early mist ( a previous winner ) this was to leave M'as-tu-vu in the lead and Devon was going well in mid division. The horse had no problem with the obstacles and only had one problem on the fist circuit when a horse fell in front of him and he had to swerve to miss it, he did this in great style and went on to complete the first circuit by jumping ' The Chair ' the biggest fence in the race easily, and then cleared the water to go back to the start for another circuit. His jockey was impressed with the ease his horse was showing indeed even turning in for the final straight his jockey could see all around him hard at work and he still had a ' double hand full ' .
Clearing the last and going on to the long run in, the jockey was later to write in an autobiography " Never had I felt such power in reserve, such confidence in my mount, such calm in my mind " and it was clear that there was only going to be one winner, However disaster was to strike 50 yards from home when all the men in the stand were throwing up their hats into the air to salute a great win for Devon, Dick and The Queen Mother. Suddenly the horse seemed to jump in the air and then completely collapsed onto his stomach, The horse got to his feet and his jockey tried to summon the horse to carry on but it was soon obvious that the horse could not carry on and as ESB ran past to win, it was clear to all the shocked crowd that Devon Loch had come to grief in the worlds greatest steeplechase.
Probably the most disappointed person on that day was HM The Queen Mother but as this remarkable National Hunt enthusiast who's only concern on the day was for the Horse, Trainer and Jockey, indeed on meeting ESP's winning trainer and jockey later it was they who were full of tears and the Queen Mum was later to say when asked of the incident when being interviewed on the television That's Racing ( a lesson to us all ).
Many theories have been given up to what happened on that day. The jockey said "I'm convinced that the roar of the crown frightened the horse", a police officer on duty that day said "There was a dark wet patch on the course and that caused the horse to stumble", it is also said that the shadow of a fence caused the horse to think there was a fence there and it spooked him. I guess the real reason will never be known but the horse when checked at the stable afterwards was found to be in good health and never showed any sign of an abnormality indeed he went on to win twice after. The theory that I think is most likely is the shadow because this' Jumping of no fence 'is not unique even in the Grand National as in 1901 The winner a horse called Grundon also did this trick it was reported that he jumped a footpath that he thought was a fence!
Dick Frances the Jockey on Devon Loch as can be seen here was a dejected and was inconsolable on the day and now has a successful career as a writer of racing related thrillers but even he must admit that life is stranger than fiction.