Devon Loch was a racehorse owned by HM Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, which entered history books when it collapsed 45 meters before the winning post at the 1956 Grand National steeplechase. It was in the lead but suddenly the horse decided to jump up over an invisible hurdle and collapsed. On his belly, his forelegs out in front, Devon Loch tried to get back onto his feet and more or less collapsed again. Its jockey dismounted. It was over. Another horse, E.S.B. had won. However, the mystery surrounding its collapse elevated the jockey Dick Francis to front-page status, now Britain’s favorite failed hero.
Some claimed Devon Loch suffered a cramp or a heart attack. Others (including Francis) thought a shadow thrown by the hurdle on the other side of the race confused the horse into thinking another jump was required. Confused as to whether he should jump or not, Devon Loch half-jumped and collapsed. Dick Francis also notes the irony of the situation: “I’m afraid it was because of his owner that we lost the race. A quarter of a million people were at Aintree that day, all cheering for the Queen Mother. A crescendo of noise hit him, his hind quarters refused to react for a split second, and down he went.”
Devon Loch was Francis’s eighth and last ride in the National. Although the Queen Mother jovially dismissed the incident as “That’s racing,” her horse trainer urged Francis to retire at the top of his game. He did, but remained good friends with the Queen Mother, who once fetched him water personally when he choked at a dinner. The media on the other hand never let him forget the unfortunate incident. Devon Loch became eponymous with sudden, last-minute failure in the sports world.
Dick Francis found a second career as one of the most famous thriller writers of the 20th century and in fact one of its richest,too–an unbelievable achievement for a sportsman who grew up on gin to preserve his diminutive structure and whose education was rudimentary. In fact, there had been accusations that his wife did all the writing for him and it was under this dark cloud that Dick Francis died this weekend, taking the secret to his grave.