John Irvin’s Champions (1984)
Champions isn’t your typical success story. It’s a rollercoaster ride of emotions, which the film delivers well.
It’s based on the true story of British jockey Bob Champion. The movie begins in the middle of Champion’s career, having already established himself as a successful jockey in the height of his career. While in the US on vacation, he starts to feel severe pains, and a trip to the doctor reveals that he has cancer. Champion endures agonizing treatment without a guarantee of success. He only has his ironclad will to help him survive and get back to doing what he loves the most – riding and racing.
Meanwhile, things aren’t looking great for his horse, Aldaniti either, after he sustained chronic leg injuries and was vetted not to race again. Aldaniti exhibits the same strong will as Champion, and with the help of his owners, trainer Josh Gifford, he recovers and gets back into racing shape.
The two, now sharing a common bond and the same level of courage, successfully enter and win The 1981 Grand National.
Champion was played by the magnificent Sir John Hurt (may he rest in peace), and his stellar performance earned him an Evening Standard British Film Award in 1985. To prepare for the role, he spent a lot of time with the real Bob Champion – The Guardian shared a photo of the two together in 1984.
Many of the supporting cast including Edward Woodward, Jan Francis, and Ben Johnson were all exceptional in the movie as well. The movie “grips the viewer from the start,” as described in a review by The Horse Studio.
The Grand National
The Grand National is an insanely tough race which makes their achievements that bit more memorable. The jump race totals roughly 7 kilometers and the fences are bigger than other steeplechase races, not to mention the open ditches. Due to its difficulty, there have been a number of horse fatalities either at the race or sometime later as a result of injuries sustained on the Aintree track. There have also been jockeys who have suffered serious injuries, too.
On the flipside though, that handicap is also what gives the race its grandeur. It takes serious skill to cross the finish line, and that in itself is already an achievement. This led to the increasing popularity of The Grand National, and the festival grew so much over the years, it has become one of the most high-profile horse racing events in the world. Approximately 600 million viewers tune in to watch the race annually.
Betting is also a major component of the occasion, with even casual spectators joining in. A post from The Conversation mentioned that 2 out of every 3 adults in the UK bet on the race, many of whom only do so when The Grand National takes place and not for any other race in the year.
The same happens in other countries too, which is why analysts have begun to offer their projections through up-to-the-minute race previews. World renowned trainer Paul Nicholls is a regular columnist for Grand National Daily Tipping on Betfair and his previews of the race have won many awards over the years for their meticulous nature, not to mention accurate forecasts. Nicholls’ columns are just an example of how digital content supports The Grand National and its lead-up to the big race. They also help garner the race a huge audience across the globe, and this is why it’s been in a league of its own since the 80s.
With all that established, it’s easy to understand how big the stakes were for our two warriors. In the year when Bob Champion and Aldaniti emerged as the victors, only 12 out of the 40 contenders finished the race. And to think that both of them had just overcome major health problems to win The Grand National was impressive, to say the least. Stories like that rarely play out in a positive manner. Champions is a wonderful film that can truly inspire you to persevere and achieve your dreams, no matter how big.