The accomplished British mystery writer Dick Francis, whose bestsellers revolved around horse racing, could not have spun a believable tale to depict what actually happened to him in real life when he rode in the 1956 Grand National at Aintree.  Truth is indeed often stranger than fiction.

Francis was a champion steeplechase jockey who had won over 350 races when he rode in 1956 in the Grand National for the eighth and final time.  His mount Devon Loch was owned by the Queen Mother.

Once Devon Loch cleared the last hurdle and was on the lead, Francis recollected his certainty that he was going to win the race: “Never had I felt such power in reserve, such confidence in my mount, such calm in my mind.”

The appreciative crowd roared and celebrated as Francis guided Devon Loch to what seemed to be a sure victory.  Then, fifty yards from the finish, disaster struck when Devon Loch suddenly did a belly flop (click here to see the photo).

Francis recalled: “Devon Loch pricked his ears.  A wall of noise hit him and his hind legs just refused to act for a stride.  Before I knew it, he was on his belly, his forelegs out in front of him.  I didn’t fall off…when he got to his feet, he more or less collapsed again.  So I dismounted.”

This has to be one of the most bizarre endings ever to a horse race…defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

With typical British reserve, The Queen Mother outwardly took it in stride, tersely remarking about the disappointing turn of events: “That’s racing.” Yet it is the sort of crushing loss that lingers forever in one’s mind.

The inaugural Grand National was run in 1839 and it became—and remains–the most famous steeplechase in the world with a massive global television audience.  The 2017 edition, the 170th running, will be held on April 8th at picturesque Aintree Racecourse, owned by the Jockey Club, near Liverpool.  The race is four miles, three furlongs, and 110 yards in length over 30 fences with colorful names like Becher’s Brook, Canal Turn, and The Chair.  The purse is £1 million and the race has 40 entrants with another four in reserve.

The Grand National is part of a three-day race meet and festival that begins on April 6.  Last year, over 150,000 people attended the Festival and some 70,000 showed up on day three for the Grand National.

With such a large field, the Grand National offers bettors plenty of opportunity.  In 2016, the winner, Rule the World, came home at odds of 33-1 and the next three finishers were 8-1, 100-1, and 28-1.

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