ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Dick Francis Part Four: Riding the Queen's Horses Before the Writing Life

Updated on April 29, 2012
Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

Barbara Anne Helberg is a Fiction freelancer, Internet writer, WordPress blogger, former Journalist, and a Famous Writers School graduate.

The most famous rider of the Queen Mother's steeplechasers was author Dick Francis.
The most famous rider of the Queen Mother's steeplechasers was author Dick Francis. | Source

His father was a professional steeplechase rider and stable manager who introduced Dick Francis to racing. As a professional jump jockey himself until the age of 36, Francis was a winner in more than 350 races, but it was his devastating defeat in the 1956 Grand National steeplechase on the Queen Mother's horse Devon Loch which stamped him with riding notoriety.

Francis, who died in February of 2010, painstakingly described the awful event in his autobiography, The Sport of Queens, published in Britain in 1957. (A revised edition hit the bookshelves in 1974.)

Defeat at The Grand National

"A post-mortem one day may find the words 'Devon Loch' engraved on my heart," Francis wrote in his autobiography. No other horse, he claimed, brought him "such delight and such dispair" as Devon Loch.

Francis said he believed Devon Lock to be "as clever as he looked" when he first rode him. The Irish-bred Devon Loch had "the spring and the sense" needed to raise him to the pinnacle of success, Francis said. The jump jockey had opportunties to partner with Devon Loch in several races before the 1956 Grand National, and nothing the big gelding did detracted from Francis' confidence in him.

Although the Grand National is the most sought after victory in Great Britain for jump jockeys, Francis named it "usually...more of a worry than a pleasure to anyone riding in it". In 1956, the ride for Francis was a pleasure until the very end.

Leading the gruelling 30-jump race, Francis described the feeling of his ride with just fifty yards of straight away left to finish to win the Grand National: "Never had I felt such power in reserve, such confidence in my mount, such calm in my mind". Devon Loch cleared the final fence "as stylishly as if it had been the first".

Then Francis's mount unaccountably belly-flopped. Devon Loch went down with all four legs extended outward and, apparently uninjured, popped back up. But the race was lost.

Despite all explanations offered to account for Devon Loch's fall, none ever could bring the shocking event to satisfactory closure. And Francis was forever saddled with the loss as one of the most notorious in Grand National history.

A disappointed Queen Mother was nevertheless gracious. "That's racing, I suppose," she told Francis when the rider struggled to express to her his regret.

Dick Francis published his autobiography in 1957.
Dick Francis published his autobiography in 1957. | Source

"The Good Years"

In his autobiography, Francis spoke of "The Good Years" (Chapter Ten) riding for the Queen Mother in his first season aboard M'as-Tu-Vu, the only steed in training for the royal box at the time. When Francis and M'as-Tu-Vu won for the first time with the Queen Mother in attendance, it took Francis a moment, or two, he said, to realize all the cheering was for a Royal win. All the joy, of course, was for the horse and the Queen Mother. Wins were never about the rider. "...nevertheless," he stated, "it was exciting to hear and be part of".

Francis observed that it is "as difficult for queens as for anyone else to buy a really good horse". In Francis's five years riding for the royals, Devon Loch was an empire. An injury, however, had kept the gelding out of racing for two years, and he was not in training in Francis's first year with the Queen Mother's stable.

M'as-Tu-Vu was successful in small races before Double Star became part of the royal racing barns and posted numerous victories. In 1954, two years away from Devon Loch's debacle at the Grand National, Francis earned his Champion Jockey trophy. But he believed his resume still to be wanting without a Grand National win.

Jump jockey Dick Francis turned to fiction writing in 1962.
Jump jockey Dick Francis turned to fiction writing in 1962. | Source

A shoulder dislocation plagued Francis in the final years of his steeplechasing rides to the point that he needed to wear a wrapping around his left arm to anchor it firmly to his shoulder during races. His best chance to win the Grand National title dissolved with Devon Loch, and like Devon Loch, Francis had absorbed too many hard miles to continue. He was forced to retire from the racing circuit by the end of 1956.

A whole new success, however, was just around the corner for Francis.

Writing Instead of Racing

Francis traded in his saddle for a pen, agreeing to write a steeplechasing review column for the Sunday Express while also working on his racing autobiography. In 1962, putting his experiences to the genre of mystery fiction, he published his first novel. It was followed by a second effort in 1964 titled Nerve, and his mystery/thriller writing career steadily began to gain admiring fans.

In his autobiography, published before Nerve, Francis had spoken of jump jockeys as men of ruthless nerve who put themselves in precarious positions to win races, men he never had known to lose their nerve. That sentiment, as well as many others on the life of jump jockeys and steeplechasing, carried over into his fiction writing.

Francis certainly never lacked nerve, or the courage to take up a whole different life style after his rides ceased. As a mystery/thriller author, he won many awards while writing a book every year from 1964 through 2000, and again from 2006 to 2010. His fans still grow in adoration for the consummate gentleman who rode with nerve and wrote with colorful, honest passion.

His wife, Mary, who died in 2000, was Francis's research partner in his writing career, and recently, his son Felix has taken up the continuation of Francises writing fiction.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Barbsbitsnpieces profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Anne Helberg 

      6 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA

      @RedElf...Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      DF was a brilliant writer, so vivid and inventive and entertaining while keeping his protagonists on high moral ground, for the most part. I have everything he wrote except the Piggot bio.

    • RedElf profile image


      6 years ago from Canada

      Love Dick Francis - have all his novels. I am enjoying this series very much!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)