December 9 2013 Latest news:
Sunday, February 17, 2013
It stands a foot high, dates from 1958 and records a famous Grand National victory, but for one Norfolk politician it signifies something much deeper – a physical link to the dad he did not know as a child.
So when Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman heard the trophy commemorating his father Arthur’s triumph in the world’s most famous horse race was about to be auctioned – and could end up being melted down – he decided he had to save it.
Arthur Freeman was born in 1926 and came from a long line of huntsmen. He rode for the Queen Mother for several years in the 1950s – a role inherited by Dick Francis – but 1958 was the year of greatest triumph. He had previously taken part in six Nationals but did not have a ride that year until he was drafted in at the last minute to ride Mr What.
The race was dramatic, and one newspaper report said: “It was well that a strong and accomplished jockey had been chosen, for Mr What hit the last fence hard. His hind legs went up into the air and he was twisted awkwardly.
“The crowd on the stands gasped and roared as they saw it, but Freeman, a survivor of hundreds of such incidents, balanced himself in the air and braced back, never losing the contact between the saddle and his boots.
“Mr What, a courageous, natural jumper, took the shock on his forelegs, pricked his ears, and galloped on.”
He went on to win by 30 lengths, a stunning margin. But the day was also memorable for more personal reasons, as he and his wife-to-be became engaged that evening.
George was born in 1967, the youngest of three brothers.
He said: “After my parents divorced shortly after I was born, I grew up not knowing my father. For years, my only contact was the Letts Sporting Diary list of sporting winners which I looked forward to every year until his name passed off the bottom of the list.”
Mr Freeman was 16 when he met his father again, at Kempton Park, to watch his eldest brother, Edward, in his first race. His father died in 1988, but 20 years later his family and friends gathered at Aintree to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his most famous achievement.
George said: “Like so many jockeys of the generation when jump jockeys took their lives in their hands every afternoon, and in particular when the Grand National fences were much bigger and tougher obstacles than today, he suffered from many bad falls and like many jockeys was wonderfully looked after by the Injured Jockeys Fund.”
The MP has since been collecting memorabilia from his father’s career, and a photograph of him and Mr What clearing the final fence of the 1958 Grand National is one of many that line the corridor of his home.
Mr Freeman said: “When Marcus Armytage, the Telegraph’s racing correspondent, who himself won the race as an amateur, told me that the trophy from father’s race was up for auction I initially
put in a reserve bid to ensure the trophy did not go, as so many do, for smelting.
“But then the heart took over the head and I ended up in a bidding auction to buy it back. I have never done an auction before, and the bids seemed to fly by.
“It was a very nice and rather special feeling to hear the auctioneer beat the gavel and announce ‘Sold to the Freemans. It’s coming home’.
“It may prove to be a terrible investment, but for me it’s a priceless chance to re-connect with my absent father’s greatest triumph.”
He added: “Now, with two children of my own, I want them to grow up with a sense of their heritage, and I am always on the lookout for any memorabilia of dad’s career.”
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