A life-size statue of former wartime RAF Pilot, Champion Jump Jockey and international bestselling author Dick Francis is to be unveiled at Aintree Racecourse on Day One of the Grand National Festival 2022.
The permanent tribute to Francis at the home of the Randox Grand National will celebrate his remarkable life, which saw him not only ride in the world’s most famous steeplechase on eight occasions, but also play a significant role in the 1982 Grand National Appeal to purchase the racecourse, saving it from becoming a housing estate.
Francis, who died aged 89 in February 2010, subsequently 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.
Created by renowned sculptor William Newton, the bronze statue was instigated by Peter Johnson, a lifelong fine art dealer, former point-to-point rider, Dick Francis fan and founder of the British Sporting Art Trust.
The statue will stand at the top of the steps outside the Aintree weighing room, looking out across the parade ring and winner’s enclosure and will be unveiled by Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal at 2pm on Thursday 7th April, during the first day of the 2022 Grand National Festival.
Newton’s sculpture 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.
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.
Pictured: Felix, Mary and Dick Francis.
The son of Dick Francis, Felix Francis, who has continued in his father’s literary footsteps, said: “My brother, Merrick, and I, together with the whole Francis family, are overwhelmed that Aintree Racecourse has chosen to honour the contribution that our father made to British Steeplechasing in general, and to the Grand National in particular. We are most grateful to Mr Peter Johnson, art dealer, former amateur rider, life-long Dick Francis fan, and founder of the British Sporting Art Trust, who has inspired and driven this project to fruition; to the sculptor, William Newton, for his skill in creating such an uncanny likeness; and also to the many friends, family and others who have helped contribute towards the cost.”
Dickon White, The Jockey Club’s Regional Director for the North West, said: “Few people have done more for Aintree and the Grand National than Dick Francis. Not only did he play a significant role in securing the future of this racecourse and the world’s most famous steeplechase, he also introduced millions of people to our sport through his books, as well as being an extremely gifted rider himself.
“We’re delighted that his statue will look out over the paddock and winner’s enclosure as a permanent reminder of his contribution to horseracing and to Aintree.”
Felix Francis’s latest book ICED is currently available in hardback and will come out in paperback in June 2022. His new novel HANDS DOWN sees the return of the hugely popular top jockey turned super sleuth Sid Halley and will be published in September 2022. See www.felixfrancis.com for details.
All photographs courtesy of Felix Francis.
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