It has been said a million times before, but the Grand National truly is a race where anything can and usually does happen.

From fairytale endings to disastrous runs, shock falls, and runners-up being pipped to the post in photo finishes, it is the race that just keeps giving.

But in the entire history of the race, one horse stands out as being one of the unluckiest – Devon Loch.

Sired by Devonian and trained by Peter Cazalet, Devon Loch was owned by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, which brought considerable attention to his racing career.

That is especially true when it comes to the 1956 Grand National considering the good seasonal form he was on.

While betting on sports in those days may not have been as popular or as easy as it is now, Devon Loch had plenty of fans who backed him in odds of 100/7 to win the National.

So with two wins and a third-place finish in the National Hunt Handicap Chase at Cheltenham, it was all systems go for Cazalet, jockey Dick Francis and the Royal Family.

The Race

The race started well enough for the classy chaser, whose chances of winning were boosted when the favourite, Must, crashed out at the first fence.

With a solid round of jumping by fence 27, Devon Loch was in poll position, a half-length ahead of his nearest rival, Eagle Lodge.

By fence 29 ESB had moved into contention, and along with Gentle Moya, the trio continued to do battle until the final straight.

With little more than 40 yards to go and victory in his sights, one of the greatest mysteries in horse racing unfolded.

Literally, as the race commentator uttered the words, “Devon Loch can’t lose”, he inexplicably jumped, landing straight on his stomach, stood up, and was instantly out of the race.

ESB ran straight passed and on to victory, with Gentle Moya in second and Royal Tan in third.

It really is incredible to watch, and to this day, no one really knows what caused the horse to react this way.

Why Did Devon Loch Jump?

Nearly 70 years on from that fateful day, nobody actually knows why Devon Loch behaved the way he did.

Many have speculated that it was the noise of the crowd that startled him, including Francis, who later wrote, “I believe that is when the noise of the crowd hit him.

“I’ve looked at the newsreel time and time again and just as we were approaching the water jump, which he jumped on the first circuit, you see the horse prick his ears and his hindquarters just refused to work.”

He also told his own son that “it was like riding into a funnel of noise”.

George Milburn, jockey on Gentle Moya, suggested that Devon Loch got a muscle cramp, and others have suggested that the horse caught sight of the water jump, and that caused him to jolt.

The reality, however, is that nobody actually knows what happened to Devon Loch. And nobody ever will.

The Aftermath

Despite having two runners in the 1956 Grand National – Devon Loch and M’as Tu Vu – the Queen Mother, who was no doubt hugely disappointed by the outcome, met the event with her usual pragmatism, simply saying “That’s racing”.

However, she never had another Grand National runner though she and Dick Francis remained lifelong friends.

As for the oft-forgotten winner, ESB, he was ridden to victory by jockey Dave Dick and gave legendary trainer Fred Rimmell his first of four Grand National winners.

He went on to win with Nicolaus Silver in 1961, Gay Trip in 1970, and Rag Trade in 1976, beating Red Rum in the process.

Dick Francis

Dick Francis may have been known as the jockey of Devon Loch but his legacy in both horse racing and the literary world extends far beyond that one race.

Not only was he the British jump racing Champion Jockey in the 1953-1954 season, when he retired in 1957 due to injuries, he started a new career as a writer.

Initially he worked as a racing correspondent for London’s Sunday Express before writing more than 40 international bestsellers.

Dead Cert, his first book, was published in 1962, and from then on, he consistently produced novels almost every year.

His work earned him numerous awards, including the Crime Writers’ Association’s Gold Dagger and the Cartier Diamond Dagger for his outstanding contribution to the genre.

His son, Felix Francis, later collaborated with him on some novels and continued writing under the Dick Francis brand after his father’s death in 2010.