Few, if any, Grand National stories can rival that of the 1981 winner Aldaniti and his jockey Bob Champion. Indeed, the heart-warming tale was described by the late Josh Gifford, who trained Aldaniti, as ‘the stuff of dreams’ and immortalised in the 1984 film ‘Champions’.
Aldaniti was a talented, if fragile, steeplechaser with a history of leg trouble. In 1979, he had finished third, albeit well beaten, in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and second in the Scottish National at Ayr, where he led over the final fence. However, the following November, at Sandown, he broke down badly and was confined to his box, in plaster, for six months. In fact, he would have been humanely euthanised if the veterinary surgeons had had their way.
Meanwhile, Champion, 31, had been diagnosed with testicular cancer and was faced within the unenviable choice of a maximum eight months to live or a maximum 40% chance of survival if he embarked, immediately, on a ‘barbaric’ course of chemotherapy. Unsurprisingly, he chose the latter and was promised by Gifford that his job as stable jockey would be waiting for him upon his return.
Return he did, albeit after seven months in and out of hospital, as did Aldaniti. They were reunited in the Whitbread Trial Chase at Ascot in February, 1981, winning easily, and Aldaniti suddenly became a leading fancy for the Grand National. At Aintree, Aldaniti was sent off 10/1 second favourite and, despite overjumping the first fence, took the lead early on the second circuit and was never headed thereafter. On the run-in, favourite Spartan Missile briefly looked dangerous, but Aldaniti stayed on well in the closing stages to win by 4 lengths.