On 25th June 1970, a foal was born at Tommy Barron's Harrowgate Stud, near Thirsk, North Yorkshire. His sire was Harrowgate's hunter stallion Derek H and his dam was a throughbred called Renardeau, known to all as 'Polly'.
Two months later, Tommy Barron's son, racing trainer David Barron called in to say that his wife Chris had found a name for the new foal. Tommy Barron had 4 grandchildren, and Chris had taken taken the
the first two letters from each of their names - Alistair, David, Nicola and Timothy - to make the name Aldaniti.
Nick Embiricos & Josh Gifford
Gifford entered Aldaniti for his first race, a 2-mile Novices Hurdle at Ascot, in January 1975. Ridden by Gifford's young stable jockey Bob Champion, and wearing Althea's
Althea's colours, the horse beat 16 other runners to win by 4 lengths, at odds of 33-1! Excited by the horse's potential,
potential, Nick Embiricos, a ship-broker with a passion for National Hunt racing,
racing, telephoned Josh Gifford, and got first refusal on the horse. Nick went to Downs stables the following day, and bought Aldaniti. Nick lived 20 miles from Findon, at Barkfold Manor, a lovely house set in 600 acres of farmland which included a small stud farm where he bred mainly flat horses. Nick was keen to race his new purchase, and by the end of the season, Aldaniti had run another four times finishing 2nd, 3rd & 4th (twice).
Aldaniti - watercolour by A J Gadd
Ciaran Brown outside Barkfold Manor
In his next race at Windsor on 1st January 1976, Aldaniti finished 3rd, but ten days later, he was found to be lame after finishing 7th in a hurdle race at Sandown. After more than a year's absence from the racetrack Aldaniti had fully recovered. By then, his owner and trainer both knew that the horse's future lay in chasing rather than hurdling. Aldaniti raced six times in the 1976-77 season, with 2 wins (at Ascot, and Uttoxeter) and two 2nds. Bob Champion boldly predicted that one day Aldaniti would win the Grand National!
Aldaniti at Sandown in 1979 - Oil painting by Richard Stone Reeves
The 1977-78 season started well with a win in the Leicestershire Silver Fox Handicap Chase at Leicester. However, after his 3rd place in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Newbury in November 1977, Aldaniti was found to be lame again, having chipped two bones in his leg. He spent the next seven months confined to his stable, and it would be more than a year after his last race, that he would be seen on the racetrack again.
Aldaniti was now competing in races at the highest level, and his next race, on Boxing Day 1978, was the three-mile King George VI Chase at Kempton, in which he finished in 6th place. Aldaniti had six more races that season, with two wins (at Sandown andHay
Bob Champion & Aldaniti winning at Haydock in 1979
and Haydock); a 2nd place in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr and a 3rd place in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. At this point in his racing career, Aldaniti had run in 22 races, and had been ridden by Bob Champion in all of them. However, this was about to change when
There followed many months of chemotherapy treatment at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Chelsea. Its side effects were very nasty and very painful, and the outcome was very uncertain. Bob Champion was visited by Nick Embiricos and Josh Gifford during his time in hospital, and the trainer gave Bob the promise that his job would still be there at the Findon yard, if he returned to race riding fit and well. After Aldaniti had run so well in the Scottish Grand National, it was planned to aim him at the 1980 Grand National, giving Bob Champion a great incentive to beat his illness.
when the jockey was diagnosed with cancer in July1979
in July 1979. Two months earlier, Bob Champion had fallen from Fury Boy in a race at Stratford and been kicked by the horse as it tried to get up. Bob remounted and went on to win the race, but it was only several weeks later, after seking medical advice, that the seriousness of his condition became known. Tests confirmed that he had developed testicular cancer which, if left, would kill him within six months.
Oil painting of Aldaniti by E Richardson
In the meantime, Aldaniti would be ridden by another Downs Stable jockey, Richard Rowe. Rowe was in the saddle for Aldaniti's first race of the 1979-80 season, the Ewell Handicap Chase at Sandown. But disaster struck when the horse was pulled up lame, with a serious tendon injury, during the race. Josh Gifford and the vet thought it would be better for the horse to be put down, but Nick Embiricos and his wife Valda wouldn't hear of this and Aldaniti spent the whole of 1980 recuperating at his owner's Barkfold stables.
Beryl Millam with Aldaniti at Barkfold Manor
Scene from Champions where Beryl Millam brings the fully-recovered
Stable lad Peter Double was given the job of looking after Aldaniti, whose training had to be very carefully carried out by Josh Gifford. It was planned to give Aldaniti just one race before the National, and the one chosen was the Whitbread Trial Handicap Chase at Ascot in February 1981. Aldaniti showed he was in good form by winning the race. All was now set for Aldaniti to take his place in the Grand National in April 1981, to be run over the daunting fences at Aintree Racecourse.
Bob Champion, meanwhile, had left hospital in January 1980, but the illness and the chemotherapy had left him bald and so weak he could hardly stand. However, with Aldaniti giving Bob the will to live and race again, he eventually beat the disease, and began a gruelling training regime to regain his full fitness. By August 1980 he had returned to his old job as Gifford's stable jockey
jockey. A month later he rode a winner at Fontwell. The future was looking good again! Patiently cared for by Barkfold's head stable girl Beryl Millam, Aldaniti had defied all the oddsand
Aldaniti back to the stables to start training
odds and recovered so well that in December 1980, Nick Embiricos asked Josh Gifford to have him back for training and adding, "We're going to have a crack at the National."
The spring day was fine and sunny as Aldaniti lined up for the 1981 Grand National, then sponsored by The Sun newspaper. With most of the general public aware of Bob Champion’s amazing story, many people backed his horse, and Aldaniti,
Oil painting of Aldaniti
Bob Champion and Aldaniti win at Ascot in February 1981
It was their last race before the Grand National
In May 1974, Aldaniti was sent to be sold at the Ascot Bloodstock Sales, where he was seen by former champion jockey Josh Gifford who, by then, was a newly established trainer at the Downs Stables in Findon, West Sussex. Encouraged by his wife Althea and her father George Roger-Smith, Josh reluctantly bought the horse for 4,100 guineas, but thought he had paid far too much for him!
Oil painting of Aldaniti
The tapes went up and the race got underway, with the usual cavalry charge towards the first fence. In his exuberance, Aldaniti
Aldaniti, carrying 10st 13lbs, became the second favourite of thirty-nine runners, at odds of 10-1. Aldaniti's main danger was the race favourite Spartan Missile, bred, owned, trained and ridden by 54-year-old John Thorne.
Bob Champion canters Aldaniti to the start of the Grand National
Photo of Aldaniti clearing the water jump in the 1981 Grand National
Aldaniti before the start of the race
The result didn't entirely surprise Nick Embiricos who had vividly dreamt the night before that Aldaniti would win the race, nor did it surprise Josh Gifford who, before the race, had correctly predicted the finishing order of the first three home, “In my opinion there are only three runners: Aldaniti, Spartan Missile and Royal Mail.” Unsurprisingly, the 1981 Grand National has taken its place
Montage (signed by Bob Champion) of Aldaniti in the 1981 Grand National
Aldaniti overjumped the first two fences and nearly came to grief, but soon got into hisrhythm
his rhythm and began to jump each fence beautifully. After the eleventh of the 30 fences he was in the lead, and it was to remain that way until he passed the winning post, ahead of Spartan Missile and Royal Mail. Watched by sixty tthousand people at Aintree, and 750 million on TV worldwide, the miracle had happened - Bob Champion had beaten cancer and his horse, twice very badly injured, had galloped all of his rivals into submission.
Aldaniti & Bob Champion pass the winning post
Aldaniti, Royal Mail & Spartan Missile race for the line in the 1981 Grand National
Aldaniti jumps the final fence
It is quite spooky to consider how the number 4 figured so prominently that day. The race was run on the 4th day of the 4th month, and the Grand National (which is run over a distance of 4 miles & 4 furlongs) was the 4th race on the card. Aldaniti carried the saddlecloth number 4 and beat second placed Spartan Missile by 4 lengths!
Painting of Aldaniti & Bob Champion
by Claire Eva Burton
The day after the Grand National, Findon village was teeming with more than 3,000 well-wishers eager to welcome
Nick Embiricos and Peter Double lead Aldaniti & Bob Champion
into the winner's enclosure at Aintree
Like all Grand National winners, Aldaniti went on to have his fair share of public appearances. These included kicking off a charity football match in aid of the Injured Jockey's Fund; three days at the Royal Cornwall Show and a fund-raising day in support of Lingfield Children's Hospital. Bob Champion and Aldaniti werealso invited
welcome back their local heroes. Aldaniti's stable had beend
had been decorated with flags in celebration of his win.
in the 1981 Grand National
Aldaniti, Peter Double & Nick Embiricos
Nick Embiricos gave me this photo of Aldaniti & Bob Champion
Aldaniti is the centre of attention back in Findon
Findon villagers turn out in force to welcome Aldaniti home after his Grand National win!
Bob Champion & Aldaniti
At Josh Gifford's memorial service in Chichester Cathedral, Claude Duval recalled that day. "The home-coming for Aldaniti stands out in my memory. People thronged the little village square by The Gun pub and cars were abandoned everywhere. Crowds then followed Aldaniti up the hill like the Pied Piper and flocked to the stables, where champagne corks exploded like gunfire inthe
in the spring sunshine. These were magic moments and I recall a worried stable lad running in to tell Josh: “Guv’nor … they are trampling all over the daffodils.” Josh beamed:"Blankety Blank the Blankety Blank daffodils!"
Aldaniti's 'decorated' stable after his Grand National success
Josh Gifford, Aldaniti & Bob Champion at Downs Stables
were also invited by the Queen to appear at the 'Windsor Great Picnic' in aid of Cancer Research.
With Josh Gifford outside the box that Aldaniti occupied at Downs Stables
Later that year, Nick Embiricos decided that Aldaniti would enter the 1982 Grand National. As preparation, Aldaniti again ran in the Whitbread Trial Handicap
Handicap Chase (just as he did in 1981) at Ascot in February 1982. This time, ridden by Richard Rowe, he disappointingly finished last. A month later, and ridden by former champion jockey Ron Barry, he finished 6th in the three-mile Greenall Whitley Breweries Handicap Chase at Haydock. However,
One of Aldaniti's shoes worn in the
1981 Grand National
However, Josh Gifford felt that the horse was stronger and fitter than he had been the previous year. So, on 3rd April 1982, Aldaniti lined up again in the famous Aintree race and, exactly as had happened the previous year, he overjumped the first fence, but this time he fell. After the race, Aldaniti was retired. Josh Gifford, recalled that the horse's enthusiasm sometimes got the better of him. "He always wanted to run faster and jump higher, and that's why he sometimes got himself into trouble. But that is why people loved him. Even when he was injured and had to spend six months in his box, he was a wonderful patient." For most horses, retirement would meano
Painting of Aldaniti & Bob Champion by Peter Curling
Champions (1984) tells Bob's story from the time he was diagnosed with cancer, through to his triumphant win in the 1981 Grand National. The cast included John Hurt as Bob Champion, Edward Woodward as Josh Gifford, Peter Barkworth as Nick Embiricos and Ann Bell as Valda Embiricos, with Aldaniti starring as himself. Throughout filming, Beryl Millam was in charge of Aldaniti. She was his groom for many years, and ensured that he worked within the limitations set by his owner Nick Embiricos. Because
In 1981, Bob Champion collaborated with his friend, the racing journalist Jonathan Powell, to write the biography Champion's Story. It is a superb account of Bob Champion's very eventful life, and formed the basis of the feature film Champions (1984).
mean obscurity, but for Aldaniti, a new era was about to begin that would eclipse all that he did on the racecourse.
Three different dvd covers for the film Champions (1984)
Bob Champion's biography Champion's Story
Ann Bell & Peter Barkworth as Aldaniti's owners Valda
& Nick Embiricos in the film Champions
It is the real Aldaniti seen going lame at Sandown, the 'lameness' very cleverly done by means of a leather connecting strap to the horse's leg when the jockey dismounts, and a 'hobble' for when the horse is walking. The film does have some inaccuracies. Early on, Aldaniti is seen winning a race at Chepstow (a course where he never raced), and for his final race before the 1981 Grand National, he is seen winning at Cheltenham whereas he actually won that race at Ascot!
Because of the very strict restrictions put on the use of Aldanitiduring
Aldaniti during filming (e.g. cantering only and no jumping), several chestnut racehorses had to be used as doubles. These horses were made up to look like Aldaniti, with grease paint and hairspray expertly applied
applied by Beryl Millam. Although six 'doubles' were used, the main ones were Lord Vesty's Flitgrove (who had run in the 1979 Grand National) which John Hurt mostly rode, along with Hartley Hill and Gingerbread House who were used in the jumping sequences. They werer
place in history as one of the most emotional, and inspirational races ever run.
John Hurt riding Flitgrove in Champions
'Aldaniti double' Gingerbread House jumps
were ridden by John Burke, the jockey who had won the Grand National in 1976 riding Rag Trade. Burke also rode Aldaniti himself in the opening credits, along
along with the 'dream sequences' that occur in Champions. These were filmed on the Lambourn Downs.
John Burke riding Aldaniti on Lambourn Downs in Champions
'The Chair' in the film Champions
John Hurt on Aldaniti at Chepstow racecourse
in the film Champions
Champions' Grand National climax shows footage shot in the days after the 1981 Grand National had taken place. The Aintree authorities repaired the fences and left up all the tents and signs so that the recreation of the event could be filmed
Crowd scenes which involved up to 12,000 'extras' were filmed at Aintree later that week, as were the final triumphant moments when Aldaniti himself, with John Hurt aboard, enters thew
filmed over the following days. Some breathtaking scenes were filmed at the fences, using mainly point-to-pointers, none of whom were injured in some really frightening sequences! Real footage from the 1983 Grand National was also included to create the spectacularly exciting race shown in the film.
Scene from Champions where Aldaniti becomes lame
Spectacular action in Champions
the winner's enclosure. With Carl Davis's memorable score, Champions is considered to be one of the finest horseracing films ever made.
Jan Francis, John Hurt, Edward Woodward and Aldaniti
in the closing scene from Champions
In 1987, Aldaniti took part in a sponsored charity walk in aid of the newly formed Bob Champion Cancer Trust, of which Aldaniti's owner, Nick Embiricos, was a trustee. The idea wast
Aldaniti & Bob Champion
Aldaniti & Bob Champion
was to give individuals an opportunity to ride Aldaniti for one mile, for which they would bere
be required to contribute a minimum of £1,000 in sponsorship. With the Queen's blessing, the 250 mile walk began in London at Buckingham
Jonjo O'Neill riding the first mile of the Aldaniti sponsored walk from
London to Aintree in 1987. Painting by Roger Inman
Buckingham Palace, and continued to Aintree via Cheltenham. Participants included Jonjo O'Neill, who rode the first mile; the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, who walked Aldaniti through the grounds of Windsor Castle and the Princess Royal. Many other celebrities, along with members of the general public, each rode their
The Duchess of York rides Aldaniti
their mile, after raising their sponsorship contribution. It was fitting that Bob Champion himself was in the saddle for the final mile to Aintree racecourse at the end of the month-long event. Aldaniti was given a hero's welcome as he and Bob Champion paraded in front of the packed stand before the start of the 1987 Grand National. Around £800,000 was raised by this event alone.
Aldaniti with his groom Beryl Millam
For more than a decade, Aldaniti continued to raise many thousands of pounds for the Trust. In August 1996, Bob undertook the Ride for Life in which he rode several horses (including Aldaniti) from Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh to Buckingham Palace in London, where he was greeted by the Queen. This event raised over a million pounds towards a new Research Unit (opened in 2000) at the Royal Marsden Hospital.
Aldaniti spent his retirement years raising millions of pounds for the Bob Champion Cancer Trust. He became a legendary equine superstar who lived out a long and very happy
happy retirement at Barkfold Manor. On several occasions, he was a star attraction at Josh Gifford's Open Days at Findon.
Aldaniti & Bob Champion at Holyrood House for the
'Walk for Life' in 1996
Peter Double & Aldaniti at the Downs Stables
Open Day in 1994
Aldaniti shares a joke with Bob Champion!
In April 1997, Aldaniti was due to take part in the 'Parade of Champions' at Aintree racecourse on Grand National day. Sadly he passed away in his sleep just a week before, on 27th March 1997. He was buried at Barkfold Manor. Bob Champion estimated that he and Aldaniti had raised over £6 million for the Bob Champion Cancer Trust. Bob said, "Aldaniti helped me so much, ande
and even before I was ill he was always a horse I liked riding. When we won the National it was a lovely sunny day and I'll always remember it. His death is heart-breaking. He was a good old servant, and we went through a lot together. He will be sadly missed."
Josh Gifford said of this remarkable racehorse, "It's not just the racing he'll be remembered for, but what he has done since as well. He helped raise all that money for charity, and he and Bob gave hope to a lot of people. He always tried his heart out. He certainly gave me the fondest day of my racing career. It's very, very sad. He was jumping and kicking in a paddock at home only a short time before. Old age can be cruel but the horse was adored throughout his life."
By all accounts, Aldaniti was a very charismatic horse
It is not surprising that Aldaniti has been commemorated in many different ways. There are a number of paintings and prints of him; a portrait of him by Graham Isom has appeared on a bone china mug andth
Aldaniti collector plate
Aldaniti bone china mug
The gateway from the stable yard to the rear of Downs House has, for many years, had two paintings on glass depicting two racehorses. For Josh Gifford's 60th birthday, Aldaniti's owners, Nick & Valda Embiricos, commissioned a third painting for the gate depicting their famous 1981 Grand National winner.
Plaque on Aldaniti's grave
Watercolour by Claire Eva Burton
Aldaniti in retirement at Barkfold Manor in West Sussex
Ciaran Brown by Aldaniti's grave at Barkfold Manor
horse - gentle, friendly and with a great personality. On therac
the racecourse however, it took a very strong rider to keep control of him. Many of these characteristics are revealed in Liz Tresilian's book Aldaniti, published in 1984, to coincide with the release of the film Champions. This heartwarming story tells of the dedication of all those who helped a talented horse beset with many problems, to overcome them and go on to win the most challenging of all horse races, the Grand National.
Aldaniti by Liz Tresilian
Ciaran Brown with Aldaniti's owners Valda & Nick Embiricos at Barkfold Manor
and the Danbury Mint's 'Great Racehorses' series of collector plates has one featuring Aldaniti. There is even a pin badge showing Nick Embiricos' famous blue and white colours, which were inspired by the National flag of Greece.
The glass painting of Aldaniti at Downs Stables, Findon
Bob Champion has signed this photo to me
Aldaniti also has a former British Rail 'Class 86' electric locomotive named after him.
A Grand National Legend
Oil painting at Barkfold Manor
Champions - Opening Credits
Sometimes - sung by Ali Champion
I am holding the jockey's jersey in Nick Embiricos' racing colours
It is fascinating to look at Aldaniti's ancestors. There are some famous names in his pedigree like Hyperion, St Simon and Voltigeur. Some lines go back to 1600 with a mixture of Thoroughbred and Arabian horses.