The Perfect time to take seat
by Zeb Armstrong for AJRA
Posted January 4, 2016
Why did Devon Loch sit down in the home straight in the 1956 Grand National?
This story has a place in not only the hearts of racing folk, but also in the British national memory. Devon Loch was the steeplechaser who belly-flopped yards from the finishing post in the 1956 Grand National. He was the horse that grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory in the most famous jumps race in the world. And he was owned by the late Queen Mother.
The bulk of the race does not need much describing. Devon Loch was one of the favourites and he gave his jockey Dick Francis a dream ride for 99% of the gruelling 30 jump, four mile race. During the race, the royal jumper was clearing the daunting Aintree fences as if they were little hurdles. He put himself in the right rhythm and cleared every jump nicely. The horse was intelligent and knew when to jump and knew when to take it easy; the longer the race went, the better Devon Loch got.
He was flying, he was miles ahead and there were no more jumps to negotiate. Devon Loch could have walked backwards after the last jump and still won this race for the royal family. A horse named E.S.B was running second, but that jumper was dead tired and could not possibly make up the gap to Devon Loch. Devon Loch was extending his lead in the final flat portion of the race; he was about to record a famous victory for the popular Queen Mother. Hats were flung in the air and the crowd was wild with excitement. Here was the most loved owner in all of British racing, about to win the world’s greatest steeplechase. A fitting reward for a woman who dedicated a great deal of her life to jumps racing. Devon Loch had just 100 yards to run to become an immortal and popular
champion… then 90 yards, then 80, 70, 60 yards to run. Twelve more strides and he is home… eleven, ten… then…
Here are jockey Dick Francis’ own words…
‘In one stride he was bounding along smoothly; a poem of controlled motion. In the next stride his hind legs stiffened and refused to function. He fell flat on his belly, his limbs splayed out sideways and backwards in unnatural angles, and when he stood up he could hardly move… the rhythm was shattered, the dream was over, and the race was lost.
The joyous racegoers were left in stunned silence and to this day, the ‘belly-flop’ still can’t be explained. Of all times horses have galloped in the history of time, a horse owned by the royal family waited until this moment in time to do this. Devon Loch had cleared 30 fences and run 4 miles in the most famous steeplechase in the world; he was owned by the most famous racehorse owner in the world and he did something that not even Shakespeare could have thought of. What a sense of occasion to ‘belly-flop’ 40 yards from the finishing post.
So Devon Loch broke down right? Nope… he was fine. He was walked back to his stall, had the royal vets look over him and he did not so much as miss a meal afterwards. He did not even hurt himself. It was as if someone had a computer chip in his head and could control where and when he belly-flopped for the first
and only time in his life. He went on to run plenty more good races during his career.
Here is her official statement from the Queen Mother after she somehow missed the chance to win the only race she ever wanted to win…
‘We will not be done in by this, and will just keep on trying. The only creature who could explain what happened was Devon Loch, and he is not in a position to give interviews. If you ask him why, please let me know what he says.’