The Kent County Show is delighted to welcome the legendary Bob Champion to the Show this year.  Younger readers will no doubt wonder who he is but there will be many people who recognise the name. Bob Champion is a jockey and rode a horse called Aldaniti.  In the 1980’s they rode into the jaws of death together and then came out the other side and into the hearts of the nation.

Champion’s fascination with the Grand National started in childhood and he has often told the story of how he would rush to the local picture house to watch the race on the Pathe newsreel.

Bob Champion made his Grand National debut in 1971, aged 23, aboard Country Wedding; it was a less than auspicious introduction to Aintree. He was brought down at the first fence by Gay Trip, who’d won it the year before, so he never got the chance to jump Becher’s Brook. His first clear round was in 1973 on Hurricane Rock, when he finished in fifth place behind the infamous Red Rum. It was this first clear round that gave Bob the ambition to win the Grand National and he set about finding a horse to help him fulfil the dream.

That horse was Aldaniti, Bob knew the type of horse he was looking for because he had won races on Highland Wedding and Rag Trade, and ridden both Corbiere and Rubstic, and Aldaniti gave him exactly the same feeling. His first win on Aldaniti was in Leicester when he was just a young horse, and when he dismounted he told the owners, Nick and Valda Embiricos, ‘He’ll win a National one day’.”

But Champion’s hopes of ever climbing into the saddle again, let alone winning the Grand National, appeared remote when, at the age of 31, he was diagnosed as suffering from cancer, with only a 40 per cent chance of survival provided he underwent immediate chemotherapy, then a new form of treatment.  After a year of treatment and recuperation, Bob Champion and Aldaniti, who had spent four months in a plaster-cast recovering from a third serious leg injury, came under starter’s orders in the 1981 Grand National.

Because of all the publicity surrounding them the pressure to win was incredible but Champion was supremely confident his dream of winning The National had kept him going through his illness and his horse Aldaniti had cheated the vets bullet on three occasions. These two had stared death in the face and had lived to see another day.

In an interview with the Telegraph, Bob said “When we cleared the last and came to the elbow I thought Royal Mail was the only threat, then John Thorne and Spartan Missile started eating up the ground. They got within three-quarters of a length until we pulled away again to win by four. As we passed the post there was an explosion of noise. It’s funny but all the way round I’d been cocooned in what I can only describe as a private silence, in which the only sound I could hear was Aldaniti’s breathing. But as I raised my whip in triumph, I was suddenly aware that the cheers of the crowd were absolutely deafening.”

Bob started the ‘Bob Champion Cancer Trust’ in 1983. They support and raise funds for the Bob Champion Cancer Research Laboratory, which forms part of the largest male dedicated research facility in Europe, situated at the Institute of Cancer Research in Sutton, Surrey.  The Shetland Pony Grand National which will be at the Kent County Show this year will be raising money for the charity.

Bob Champion will be guest speaker for the Chairman’s Luncheon on Saturday 8 July 2017. If you are interested in tickets, please contact Hannah Stimpson in the Show Office on hannah@kentshowground.co.uk.