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Dreams come true for Waley-Cohen – a Corinthian by any definition

A Corinthian is defined as “involving the highest standards of amateur sportsmanship”. That certainly applies to Sam Waley-Cohen, who retired from the saddle in a blaze of glory with victory in the Grand National on Saturday.

He achieved more than many riders do in their professional careers, despite combining his racecourse outings with running a successful chain of dental practices that number over 200 spread across the UK, Ireland and Benelux – an economic union comprising Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Son of Felicity and Robert, whose colours he has sported in victory at the highest of levels, Waley-Cohen completed a Masters in Politics at Edinburgh University before going on to work for an international agricultural business ahead of establishing his own firm – Portman Dental Care – in 2008.

He married his wife Annabel in 2011, with none other than the Duchess of Cambridge among the guests at the ceremony.

Noble Yeats and Sam Waley-Cohen return victorious
Noble Yeats and Sam Waley-Cohen return victorious (Peter Byrne/PA)

Waley-Cohen was famously pictured with the then Kate Middleton at a charity fundraiser in 2008, with the future queen donning roller skates at an event to raise money for the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, where Sam’s brother Thomas was treated for cancer before he died in 2004 and a ward is named in his memory.

Indeed, Waley-Cohen was quick to reference his brother following his famous National success, revealing that his initials were on his saddle on what he described as a “family day” at Aintree.

Waley-Cohen was also quick to point out his good fortune in what has been an illustrious career, but he sells himself somewhat short as he has proved as good as anyone ever has been around the Grand National fences over his 23-year amateur career, as well as finding a winning route at Cheltenham.

He became the first amateur in 30 years to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup when steering the Nicky Henderson-trained Long Run – owned by his father – to victory in 2011. He also twice won the King George VI Chase at Kempton aboard the same horse.

But despite success in the blue riband of National Hunt racing, Waley-Cohen’s passions have really been fired by the unique test of the Merseyside venue.

The father of three admitted it was a “boyhood fantasy” to ride in the National, describing it as “an impossible dream for an amateur”.

Well those dreams have certainly come true now, thanks to the Emmet Mullins-trained Noble Yeats.

Sam Waley-Cohen after winning the Gold Cup with Long Run
Sam Waley-Cohen after winning the Gold Cup with Long Run (David Davies/PA)

Two Topham Chases, aboard Liberthine in 2006 and Rajdhani Express in 2015 and three Foxhunters’ Chases with Katarino (2005 and 2006) and once on Warne (2014), merely fired his appetite for victory in the most famous steeplechase in the world.

He had come close before, placing on three occasions, most notably when second on Oscar Time in 2011, and he decided with his 40th birthday looming next Friday, Aintree would be the perfect place to close the book on his riding career.

Waley-Cohen had completed the Grand National course five times from nine attempts in the big race itself before now. He did not just get round this time – a feat in itself – but instead produced a perfectly-timed run on a horse his father only bought in February.

Waley-Cohen described Long Run’s Gold Cup victory as “an overwhelming wave of happiness and relief” and his National victory he hailed as a “fairytale” as he rides off into the sunset to concentrate on his work and family life.

We all love a happy ending, don’t we?

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