by Nick Seddon
Amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen insists he will not go back on his decision to retire but admits watching someone else ride his Randox Grand National winning horse Noble Yeats will “feel like a girlfriend going off with someone else”.
The 39 year old revealed last week that his ride in Saturday’s race would be his last and despite winning the most famous steeplechase in the world he will be back at his desk on Monday morning.
Waley-Cohen, who won Saturday’s Grand National on the 50-1 chance his father Robert owns, founded dental firm Portman Healthcare in 2008 and remains its CEO.
The family were planning to fly to Ireland today (Sunday) to see Noble Yeats and trainer Emmet Mullins, who won the race with his first ever runner.
Speaking to The Jockey Club, Waley-Cohen explained: “I’ll 100% be back to work on Monday! Life keeps moving and one of the things that I’ve learned is things like these are incredible highs and you’ve got to have a steady reintroduction back into life, otherwise the down is too severe, so it’s actually quite helpful to get on with things.
Waley-Cohen was a guest on Luck On Sunday
“I’ll be in the office and we’ve got a conference in Manchester on Tuesday and I’ll be there so it’s just onwards really. It’s great and there’s nothing better than having people there to support you.”
Despite victory at Aintree on Saturday being the culmination of years of hard work and his 10th attempt in the Grand National, he stresses he is not tempted to come out of retirement.
Asked what it will be like to watch other jockeys wear the colours of his racehorse owner father Robert and even ride his Grand National-winning horse, he said: “Other jockeys have carried my dad’s colours before. Work is that busy that I haven’t been able to ride every horse.
“When you have a horse like Noble Yeats it’s going to feel like a girlfriend going off with someone else I suppose!
“In this situation though it’s all with pleasure, they’re family days and you can still enjoy it as a family day even if you’re not riding.”
There were also no wild parties afterwards – just a long trip home in the car with Annabel, 40, at the wheel and the chance to read messages of congratulations on his phone.
Waley-Cohen, who is now the only amateur rider ever to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National, added: “To be honest it was a long journey home!
“We ended up sat in a traffic jam so I had a chance to read my messages and there was so much goodwill after it and so many incredible messages. I enjoyed watching the replays and replying to people and enjoying it really.
“It feels different to winning the Gold Cup on Long Run and you get a real sense that this is the people’s race. The Grand National captures everybody’s imagination in a different way to the Gold Cup and you just get the sense of the excitement. It feels like lots of people have really enjoyed the story, which is very special.
“My phone is burning red hot! It’s so nice because I’ve had so many nice messages and so many kind words and that’s actually what you remember in the long term I think.
“I watched the race back with the social media guys at The Jockey Club at the racecourse before heading home. I had actually walked the course to give some tips to one of the jockeys Alice (Stevens) who hadn’t ridden it before on the Thursday.
“They recorded all that and then on the Saturday they said to me they weren’t really expecting that to be a chat from the Grand National-winning jockey! I’ve seen the race back and we certainly got lucky, what a charmed run round!”
Many of Waley-Cohen’s family and friends were there to see history being made, including wife Annabel and his children Max, nine, Scarlet, six, and two year old Xander.
However, there were exceptions, including his sister who was abroad and his brother Thomas, who tragically died of cancer aged 20 in 2004.
He added: “My sister was sadly away on a holiday which she’d booked and had kept being moved back due to the pandemic so unfortunately she couldn’t make it, but it was pretty much a full family affair other than that.
Emmet Mullins was also a guest on Luck On Sunday
“My kids will never forget it and I think the older two are just completely overwhelmed by it. It was a surreal experience and you couldn’t get bigger than that so they’ll spend a long time hunting for another day like it!
“They loved it and we’ve had a good family day today, enjoying breakfast with the trophy on the table! We’ll definitely have pictures all around the house for years to come.
“Days like those are family days and as a family if somebody is not there it’s very noticeable. Your mind always goes to Thomas on these days, but it’s joy of happiness and also a little bit of reflection.
“Dad’s trying to get everything organised so we’re going to see if we can’t get ourselves over to Ireland in time for this evening’s ‘homecoming’.”
Despite the race being worth £1 million in total prize money and the winning jockey usually receiving around £50,000, Waley-Cohen receives nothing as an amateur.
However, he did explain that the money is not lost and will be put to good use instead, along with prize money he won in 2011 for his Cheltenham Gold Cup win and victory in the Becher Chase at Aintree with Oscar Time in 2014.
He said: “I don’t get a share of the prize money as an amateur rider but I think a good chunk of it goes to the Amateur Jockeys Association, so they’ve probably had more days in the sun from each of Long Run, Oscar Time and Noble Yeats than they budgeted for!”
In a separate interview this morning on Sky Sports Racing, Waley-Cohen insisted it had still not sunk in that he can now call himself a Grand National-winning jockey.
He explained: “To be honest we’re still waiting to wake up from it! We’re pinching ourselves and asking ourselves if it’s true, so it’s a bit of a fantasy and it doesn’t feel like it actually came off.
“Life keeps rolling and we took a kids out for a ride this morning to escape some of the interest and enjoy the sunshine and let it all sink in.
“I think from the moment I arrived on the course I felt swept along by the amount of goodwill and people being really generous about me, saying I was going to retire and saying well done and to enjoy everything – so it was a special day even before the race. People were so generous with their thoughts and their well wishes and that very much swept us along.”
Talking more about his brother’s death 18 years ago, Waley-Cohen added: “I was riding before Thomas died but suddenly when Liberthine won at Cheltenham in 2005 that was probably the first really good thing that happened since he had died and it really did bring us all together, so the racing was a bit of a totum to all gather and to have days at the races together with a joint interest.
“It’s something that we’ve enjoyed and sometimes commiserated around but always together whatever the outcome and that’s what’s been special about it.
“Dad had horses before I was riding and he rode. We’re breeding some horses at home now and we’ve got Liberthine here amongst others, so it’s an addiction that’s hard to get away from and it’s something that we can continue to enjoy together and we’ll carry on doing that.
“I don’t have an immediate replacement (for the thrill of race riding) but life is full on as an entrepreneur, sportsman and family man - it’s really intense so it’s quite nice to catch your breath for a second. I think when you want to live life and you look for interests in life they find you, so I don’t think I’ll be sitting there bored.”
Waley-Cohen also revealed why had not turned professional during his career.
He said: “I have nothing but admiration for the professional jockeys - it’s an unbelievably tough life being on the road so much while also having the pressure and the injuries.
“Yes, there are successes but there’s an incredible hardness that they have to have and for me I wanted to do the sport for the love of it. I never wanted to win a race and think about the money.
“I wanted to be involved in racing for every bit of the experience, whether it was for a point to point where there’s no money to speak of or whether it was the Gold Cup - that was irrelevant to me.
“I think as soon as you go professional it inevitably becomes about earning a living and it’s about the money. You can’t escape from that to some extent and I thought that would change the sport for me. I was in a position where I had a business as an entrepreneur that I wanted to pursue and it allowed me to do both things.”
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