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Racing: Champion mourns the death of Aldaniti

Aldaniti, the horse whose fight back from injury and adversity to victory in the 1981 Grand National captured the imagination of the nation, has died at the age of 27. He suffered a heart attack at the home of his owner in Kirtling, Sussex. Bob Champion, the jockey whose battle against cancer was crowned with victory on Aldaniti that day at Aintree, said: "It's a sad day. I felt terrible when I heard the news but at least he went without pain."

Aldaniti had been kept busy in retirement raising funds for the Bob Champion Cancer Trust, and the former jockey estimated last night that between them the pair had raised more than pounds 6m. "He helped me so much and even before I was ill he was always a horse I liked riding," Champion said. "When we won the National it was a lovely sunny day and I'll always remember it. I was certainly on the right horse that day. Apart from a mistake at the first, he jumped very well and gave me an armchair ride."

Aldaniti's trainer, Josh Gifford, recalled that the horse's enthusiasm sometimes got the better of him. "He always wanted to run faster and jump higher," he said. "And that's why he sometimes got himself into trouble. But that is why people loved him. And even when he was injured and had to spend six months in his box, he was a wonderful patient."

Aldaniti very nearly did not make it past the first fence in the 1981 National, landing too steeply and coming to his knees. But Champion held on and the pair completed one of the most popular successes in the history of the race.

Aldaniti did fall at the first fence in the 1982 Grand National, but made a more successful return to the course in 1987, when he was accorded a hero's welcome on the day of the big race at the end of a 250-mile fund- raising walk from London, ridden by, among others, the Princess Royal.

"It's not just the racing he'll be remembered for, but what he has done since as well," Gifford said. "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 and it's a wonderful way for him to go."

Aldaniti played himself in the film Champions, in which John Hurt played the part of Bob Champion. "His death is heart-breaking," Champion said. "He was a good old servant. We went through a lot together. He will be sadly missed."

Racing, page 29