Every year the Grand National at Aintree features at least one story that just begs to be told, but perhaps none more so than that of Aldaniti and Bob Champion, whose heartwarming victory in 1981 captured the imagination of the nation and provided the inspiration for the 1983 feature film, “Champions”.
In July, 1979, at the age of just 32, Bob Champion was diagnosed with testicular cancer and given just a 35-40% chance of survival and, even then, only if he underwent a gruelling early form of chemotherapy. Begrudgingly, Champion accepted the treatment and, having been given the green light the following January, began a long, slow convalescence, spurred on by the promise of his boss, Josh Gifford, that his job as stable jockey would be waiting for him.
Aldaniti, for his part, was a talented, if injury-prone, individual, who broke down with a fractured hock at Sandown in November, 1979, and didn’t race for over a year. Champion later recalled, “He stood in a box for six months in plaster. That’s hard for a horse.” Aldaniti returned to training in January, 1981, and was reunited with Champion in the Whitbread Trial Handicap Chase at Ascot the following month. He won easily, despite starting outsider of the eights runners. The winning jockey said later, “He never came off the bridle. I thought – if he’s as good as that on the day, that’s good enough for the National, in my book.”
Allotted 10st 13lb for the Grand National, Aldaniti was backed into 10/1 second favourite and, although almost parting company with Champion at the first fence after standing off too far, jumped impeccably in the main. He made headway, going well, to join the leaders at the eleventh fence and made most of the running thereafter, eventually winning by 4 lengths from the fast-finishing Spartan Missile
Aldaniti suffered a heart attack, at the home of his owner in Kirtling, Sussex in 1997, at the age of 27. Champion reflected on their emotional victory, saying, “I will never forget the day we won the race. It was lovely sunny weather and I was lucky enough to be on the best horse in the race. He made a mistake at the first, but after that he jumped great and gave me an armchair ride. He was a good racehorse and I’ll miss him terribly.”