May 20, 2022

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Waley-Cohen's National fairytale sparked by family tragedy

Waley-Cohen’s National fairytale sparked by family tragedy

The death of Thomas Waley-Cohen in 2004 sparked his brother Sam’s philosophy “to make the most of life” and it climaxed on Saturday, with him bowing out from jump racing in his final ride with victory in the Grand National.

Waley-Cohen, who turns 40 next Friday, took the glory on 50/1 shot Noble Yeats with the amateur jockey’s saddle bearing Tom’s initials on it.

Thomas died in 2004 after a 10-year battle with bone cancer.

The saddle with his initials on it has been carried to some memorable victories — seven in total over the daunting National fences.

Victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2011 with Long Run was a considerable feat.

However, Saturday’s win in the world’s greatest steeplechase and in his final appearance, in his father Robert’s colours, out-stripped that.

“I think when you lose somebody you love and you lose them when you’re young, you realise to make the most of life,” said the winning jockey.

“To appreciate it and to try and approach things with an open heart and a lot of spirit.”

Waley-Cohen, whose wife Bella joined him on the podium with their two children, said Tom’s death had made him appreciate how precious every moment is.

“I just try to put a lot of energy into every day because you don’t know if it’s going to be your last day,” he said.

“It’s definitely made me want to make the most of the opportunities.

“Thanks to that I’ve had incredible opportunities and tried to make the most of the ones that I’ve had presented.”

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‘Fool’s gold’
Robert Waley-Cohen was overcome with emotion after his son had crossed the finishing line. Sam subsequently presented him with the cap he wore on his helmet, though he is also due to give him his boots as well.

Waley-Cohen senior also wears something as a permanent reminder of his late son.

“I’m wearing a wristband with Thomas’ initials on and that was woven by my wife and contains not only our racing colours but also Long Run’s tail,” he said.

“We’ve done that quite a lot so thank heavens it keeps growing back!”

Waley-Cohen senior said winning the National had been a dream of his son’s long in the making.

“It’s an amazing story and Sam has been dreaming of winning this ever since he used to ‘ride’ Auntie Dot (third in the 1991 Grand National) on his rocking horse, trained by John Webber, when he was a little kid,” sad the 73-year-old.

“So this really is the fulfilment of a life-long dream.”

Sam Waley-Cohen says he caught the bug of the Aintree atmosphere as a child.

“We used to come here as kids and there was an ice cream stall where you could get free tasters, and we’d be up and down every race getting free tasters,” he said.

“So it’s been part of my childhood, and what’s probably kept me trying to ride year after year after year is trying to come back and have a feeling like that.”

After the celebrations, Waley-Cohen will return on Monday to his day job of running 250 dental practices across five countries.

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He is adamant there will be no going back on his decision to retire.

“Thinking about doing this again is fool’s gold,” he said.

“I’ve made up my mind, I’ve had the dream ride, and what a way to go out.”