Bob Champion didn’t just affect the racing world. More than just a jockey, he had an impact on the wider world of sport while also putting in huge work to help medically after suffering himself during his career. Two years before his Grand National win in 1981, Bob Champion was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
He was not only determined to beat cancer but also to return to racing, and he was rewarded for his strength and never giving up when he landed the biggest race on the calendar during his return to the saddle in 1981.
Born on June 4, 1948, Champion has more honours besides his name than just those in racing. A CBE, which was initially an MBE before being upgraded, he’s had a film and book written about his battle and also won the Sports Personality of the Year dual winner, including with his National winner Aldaniti.
Bob Champion Grand National Wins
- 1981 - Aldaniti trained by Josh Gifford
|1982||Aldaniti||Fence 1 - Fell||-||Josh Gifford|
|1979||Purdo||Fence 6 - Fell||-||Nick A Gaselee|
|1978||Shifting Gold||Fence 10 - Fell||-||Kim Bailey|
|1977||Spittin Image||Fence 1 - Fell||-||Michael J Scudamore Snr|
|1976||Money Market||14||-||C Bewicke|
|1975||Manicou Bay||6||-||Josh Gifford|
|1973||Hurricane Rock||6||-||D J A Dartnall|
|1972||Country Wedding||Fence 9 - Fell||-||G B ‘Toby’ Balding|
|1971||Country Wedding||Fence 1 - Brought Down||-||G B ‘Toby’ Balding|
Winning The 1981 Grand National On Aldaniti
The biggest win of Champion’s career came at Aintree in 1981. He had worked hard to battle back from his cancer diagnosis but had been cleared and worked his way towards a return to racing.
The public were fully aware of the story around Champion, so whenever the big meetings came around, he was the one that people wanted to win. As you can imagine, plenty wanted him to win the Grand National, and this was the year he did it. He’d been in the race a total of eight times prior to his cancer break, failing to get around the first circuit on five of those occasions, while his best finish was 6th, both on Hurricane Rock in 1973 and Manicou Bay in 1975.
The stars were aligned in 1981 because the horse that Champion would ride, Aldaniti, was also on the comeback trail and a horse that the public were really taking to. He was in his prime and had finished third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and second in the Scottish Grand National, both in 1979, until disaster struck.
A severe leg injury would almost end Aldaniti’s racing career, though after these runs, and this was one that kept him off the track for more than a year. Back as an eleven-year-old, the horse was given the Grand National as his main target by trainer Josh Gifford, trained to the day with that in mind. Given his injury, plus the age he now was, many didn’t think the horse was capable, though a hugely impressive win in the Whitbread Trial Chase in February pushed him towards the front of the betting for the National. Combined with the money for Champion, a rider everyone wanted to back, he was sent off as the 10/1 second favourite.
On the first circuit, after a handful of the 39 runners had already departed the race when Champion decided to make a telling move. He went ahead and into the lead when the runners were at the 11th fence. This gave the horse a chance to really get into his rhythm, and he jumped really well from this point onwards. It was also the last time he would see a runner, as he wasn’t passed from this moment of the race.
Towards the end of the race, Spartan Missile emerged as a big challenger and did get to within a couple of lengths, but Aldaniti was not for passing, with Champion driving him clear to win by a distance of four lengths. The duo were cheered home loudly by the crowd in attendance at Aintree, a very popular winner of the race, with both horse and jockey being favourites of many people.
A year after their big win together, Aldaniti and Bob Champion were back at Aintree, looking to defend their title. This race didn’t go to plan, though, and the pair departed at the very first fence for a quick exit, and this was the last time that both would be seen in the Grand National.
Battling Back From Cancer
During his riding career, Champion suffered an illness which would take him away from the sport he loved for a period of time. In 1979, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, which would require a long period of treatment, and this was enough to keep him off the track for some time.
He would undergo various treatments for the cancer, which would combine to be successful. Beating cancer alone is a huge achievement and one that Champion should be proud of, but he was determined to take things further than that. He wanted to return to race riding and get back in the saddle as soon as possible.
This happened, and again, it was another huge achievement. After everything going off in his personal life, Champion was able to get fit again and ride, which is tough enough for any sportsperson, but even harder when you consider the weight issues that jockeys face and how much they need to control their diet.
But Champion wasn’t ready to stop here. Whenever he rode in the big races, people wanted him to win, he had the will of the public behind him, and on the biggest stage of them all, he was able to master a big success.
Aldaniti was much loved, too, so the pair will go down as one of the most popular winners of the Grand National. A day after their win, the horse returned to the Josh Gifford yard, and more than 3000 people were in attendance to cheer him off the horse box and back into his stable. If you want to get a feel for how much these two were loved, then the celebrations that day, and the number of people involved, show that in grand style.
Recognition Outside Of Horse Racing
It wasn’t just in racing where Champion was loved and honoured. He was also able to reach the wider world, and that resulted in recognition elsewhere.
One of these came thanks to his Grand National win, and it was a dual recognition award, which was given to Champion and Aldaniti. They were awarded the 1982 Sports Personality of the Year Team Award for their dramatic victory in the Grand National. At the time of the award, both were given a huge amount of credit for how they have battled against adversity.
In the same year, Champion received an MBE in the Birthday Honours list, the first of what would be two awards for him. The second came long after he had finished his racing career in 2021. Here he would receive the next honour up on the list, which is a CBE, and this was specifically given for his services to prostate and testicular cancer research, and that all came thanks to fronting the Bob Champion Cancer Trust.
The Bob Champion Cancer Trust
The trust was set up by Bob Champion in 1983, and from the very start, it was a charity that he put his heart into. He knew he had a big reach due to being a sports personality and was also someone who had been through the same as the people he was trying to help.
Over the year, the trust raised millions of pounds for cancer research, helping to find new ways of medicating and treating those who had already caught the disease, as well as looking for a long-term cure.
After his riding career was over, Champion wanted to remain in training and began training, something he continued to do until retiring in 1999. However, despite being a busy racing man, he always had time for his charity work, and that only grew stronger when he retired from the sport.
With millions of pounds raised, Champion was more than just a Grand National winner. He epitomised the qualities needed to be a good person. He faced his own struggles, battled hard against them and came out on top.
Then he went further, and went back to the cause of his problems, and used his experience to go out and help others. He was a jockey in the public life and won the Grand National, the biggest race on the national hunt calendar. All of that was used, to great effect, to further enhance the reach of his trust, and all of that led to him raising even more money and reaching even more people in his quest to help those suffering like he did.