The Galloping Grandad.


In a moment, you can watch two Champions together, as Aldaniti and Bob Champion create a fairy tale ending to the 1981 Grand National.

Much has been written over the years, and rightly so, about Bob Champion overcoming his long battle with cancer, and Aldiniti who had recovered after suffering a career threatening injury, partnering up to win the biggest prize of all.

Their story is a bestselling book and a feature film that was a box office hit.

But, do you know the other story in the race about a Galloping Grandad?

John Thorne, born May 15th, 1926, was 54 years old when he rode the 8/1 favourite Spartan Missile in the 1981 Grand National.

John Francome had offered to take the ride, many people say that had he done so, would almost certainly have won, but Thorne was determined to ride Spartan Missile himself.

Finishing like a train, he finished second to Aldaniti and Bob Champion.

John Thorne trained for the race with local soldiers as he attempted to lose two stone in weight.

He owned the Chesterton stud near leamington Spa, and had bred Spartan Missile himself.

Arguably, Spartan Missile was the best point to pointer/hunter chaser of all time.

John Thorne was an amateur rider in his 50s and came out of retirement to ride Spartan Missile, who he had bred and trained, because he believed he could achieve his dream of riding the winner of the Grand National.


He had also bred and ridden the horse’s dam, Polaris Missile and returned to race riding after his son Nigel was killed in a car crash returning home from Newmarket on December 22nd 1968.

After graduating to Hunter Chases from Point to Points, despite having a broken pin in one of his leathers, which meant he had to ride over the last 8 jumps with no stirrups, he won the Aintree Foxhunters in 1978 and again the following year.

Spartan Missile missed 1980 through injury and on his return a year later, John Thorne weighed in at 13 stone, he had to get down to a racing weight of 11 stone 2lbs.

To do this, he trained with the soldiers at his local barracks and managed to trim down to 11 stone 5lbs, just 3lbs heavier than his target.

John Francome, the champion jockey at the time, had offered to take the ride in the big race, many people say that had he done so, he would almost certainly have won.


But Thorne was determined to ride Spartan Missile himself.


Spartan Missile was settled at the back in the race but made a bad mistake at the first fence on the second circuit, setting him even further back.

Slowly but surely, he made his way through the field, but Aldiniti had set sail for home already.

Making his way past horse after horse, coming to the second fence from home, Spartan Missile was in fifth place, at the next, which was the final fence, he was in third place and finishing very strong.

At the elbow, which is about one furlong to the finish line, Spartan Missile only had Aldiniti in front of him.

Relentlessly, after gaining length after length on the run-in, the lollipop came in time for Aldiniti to win by four lengths.

The galloping Grandad, at 54 years of age, had just failed.


Unfortunately, this story doesn’t have a happy ending, as the following year, John Thorne was tragically killed in a fall at a Point to Point.

On March 6th, he took his last fall and was rushed to hospital where he died on Sunday March 7th 1982.

Below, you can enjoy watching the Galloping Grandad closing in on Aldiniti in the 1981 Grand National.


See you at the lollipop


Happy betting