Racing: Alburquerque, dashing Duke of Aintree, dies: Sue Montgomery on the fearlessness of a National legend

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The Independent Online
THE book has closed on an Aintree legend. The Duke of Alburquerque, the bold Spanish nobleman who was part of the fabric and romance of the Grand National for more than two decades, died in Madrid on Monday at the age of 74.

A fearless amateur rider, the Duke tried seven times to win the great race, which captured his imagination when he saw a film of a 1920s running at the age of eight. The only time he completed the course was when he finished eighth on his own Nereo behind Red Rum in 1974.

His love of the National verged on obsession. It earned him an annual following but brought him much pain and, at the last, almost killed him.

The Duke's first attempt came in 1952, at the age of 32. He rode his Brown Jack III but fell at Becher's first time, ending up in hospital with a cracked vertebra. Eleven years later he lined up again, on Jonjo, who fell at the 21st. In 1965, riding Groomsman, he came down at the first Valentine's and broke a leg. A year later came his best effort to date; he got to the 26th before pulling up on L'Empereur.

Our hero did not return until 1973. This time he rode the Spanish-bred Nereo, trained by Fred Winter. He was the oldest rider, at 53, on the youngest horse, a seven-year-old, and for the first time in the Duke's career a stirrup-leather broke, and he had to pull up.

Then came glory, against all odds. Two weeks before the National the Duke had had 16 screws removed from a leg he had broken in a race at Seville, and a week before he had broken a collarbone. The stitches were still raw on the day of the race, but he defied the pain and steered Nereo (100-1) into a splendid eighth place as Red Rum won for the second time.

The Duke and Nereo were back in 1976, but took a ghastly fall at the 13th. After being trampled by the following horses, he lay unconscious for two days in Walton Hospital with seven broken ribs, broken vertebrae, a broken wrist, broken thigh, and head injuries. He was then 56.

By the following year, the Jockey Club had ruled that amateurs over 50 had to pass a medical, and the gallant Duke had ridden in Britain for the last time. He attended the 1977 National as a spectator, and said it was one of the saddest days of his life.

Obituary, page 38