Josh Gifford: Jockey and trainer best known for Aldaniti's 1981 Grand National victory

 

Josh Gifford, who died yesterday of a heart attack at the age of 70, will be forever remembered for training Aldaniti to victory in the Grand National in 1981, a win which famously came after his jockey, Bob Champion, had recovered from cancer. After a successful career as a jockey himself, both in National Hunt and on the Flat, Gifford went on to train more than 1,500 winners. He was champion jockey on four occasions and finished second in the 1967 Grand National on Honey End behind the legendary winner Foinavon.

Joshua Thomas Gifford was born in Huntingdon in 1941, the son of a farmer and point-to-point enthusiast. He had his first ride as a 12-year-old, his first winner coming in 1956 on Trentham Boy. Becoming too heavy for Flat racing he switched to the jumps; his first winner was at Wincanton in 1959.

In all he won 641 times, including a string of big victories for the trainer Ryan Price, from whose Findon yard he eventually trained himself. His riding career wasn't without controversy: in the first Tote Gold Trophy, at Newbury in 1964, Rosyth was the winner, but Price and Gifford were banned because of the horse's sudden improvement. In the same race three years later, Hill House tested positive for the steroid cortisol after Gifford had steered him to victory. An inquiry was to establish that Hill House produced the drug himself because of a metabolic imbalance, and he became known as "the horse who made his own dope".

In the 1967 Grand National Foinavon, ridden by John Buckingham, was a 100/1 outsider pootling around the course until a loose horse veered dramatically to the right at the 23rd fence, causing a pile-up that took out most of the field. Buckingham was able to steer round the chaos, and though Gifford, leading 17 remounted horses, brought Honey End to within 20 lengths, Foinavon held on.

When Price decided to switch to the Flat, Gifford took the racing world by surprise, quitting riding at the age of 28 to take over a top string of jumpers. In 1978 he won the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup with Approaching, and the 1978 Christmas Hurdle with Kybo – arguably the best horse he trained – other top-quality horses included Door Latch, Deep Sensation, Bradbury Star – who won eight races at Cheltenham including the Mackeson Gold Cup twice – and Katabatic.

During his first 17 years as a trainer he failed to win a race at the Cheltenham Festival, but his wait ended in 1988 with three winners at the meeting, Golden Minstrel, Vodkatini and Pragada. Their victories helped to lift him into second place behind David Elsworth in the prize-money table; it was the closest he came to being champion trainer. It was also his best season in terms of wins, with 91.

But it was Aldaniti's win in the 1981 National for which he is best remembered. The horse had been out of racing for 14 months when he was reunited with Bob Champion, who had just recovered from cancer. Together they won the Whitbread Trial Chase at Ascot in the February, the prelude to the most inspiring victory in National history. Aldaniti nearly didn't make it past the first fence, landing too steeply and coming to his knees. But the pair held on. "He was a great jockey, a great trainer and a great man," Champion said yesterday. "He was so loyal to his jockeys."

The pair were featured in the film Champions that immortalised the story, Champion played by John Hurt, Gifford by Edward Woodward. "He wasn't totally happy about the way he was portrayed in the film," his son Nick recalled. "Dad would say, 'I wouldn't walk into a ruddy hospital with my hat on, or drink champagne in the ward, or swear at owners'. Well, it was spiced up a bit, of course, but I thought it was a fairly good likeness."

In his last few seasons his fortunes waned and he retired in April 2003, handing over The Downs stables to his son, Nick. Gifford's daughter, Kristina Cook, meanwhile, won two eventing bronze medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, in the team and individual events.

Chris Maume

Joshua Thomas Gifford, jockey and trainer: born Huntingdon 3 August 1941; MBE 1989; married 1969 Althea Roger-Smith (one son, one daughter); died Findon, West Sussex 9 February 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Data Scientist

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Full Stack Software Developer - Javascript

£18000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Strategic Partnerships Coordinator

£16000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Their research appears at the f...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen