Dick Francis dies at Cayman home

Dick Francis, the best-selling
British thriller writer and former champion jockey, died on Sunday in his home
in the Cayman Islands. He was 89.

A successful steeplechase jockey,
Francis turned to writing after he retired from racing in 1957. He penned 42
novels, many of which featured racing as a theme. His books were translated
into more than 20 languages, and in 2000 Queen Elizabeth II — whose mother was
among his many readers — honoured Francis by making him a Commander of the
British Empire.

His son Felix said he and his
brother, Merrick, were “devastated” by their father’s death, but
“rejoice in having been the sons of such an extraordinary man.”

“We share in the joy that he
brought to so many over such a long life,” Felix said in a statement. Francis’
spokeswoman Ruth Cairns said the writer had died from natural causes, but did
not elaborate.

During his writing career, Francis
won three Edgar Allen Poe awards given by The Mystery Writers of America for
his novels “Forfeit” (1968), “Whip Hand” (1979) and
“Come to Grief” (1995).

He also was awarded a Cartier
Diamond Dagger from the Crime Writers’ Association for his outstanding
contribution to the genre. The association made him a Grand Master in 1996 for
a lifetime’s achievement.

Aside from novels, Francis also
authored a volume of short stories, as well as a biography of British jockey
Lester Piggot.

In recent years Francis wrote
novels jointly with son Felix, including “Silks” (2008) and
“Even Money” (2009). A new novel by the two, “Crossfire,”
will be published later this year.

“It is an honour for me to be
able to continue his remarkable legacy through the new novels,” Felix said
in his statement.

Richard Francis was born Oct. 31,
1920, as the younger son of a horse breeder in Tenby, South Wales. During World
War II he joined the Royal Air Force in 1940 and was stationed in the Egyptian
desert before being commissioned as a bomber pilot in 1943, flying Spitfires, Wellingtons
and Lancasters.

A few years later he returned to
his father’s stables and became a steeplechase trainer’s assistant. Later, as a
professional jockey, he won 345 of the more than 2,300 races he rode in between
1948 and 1957, taking the title of Champion Jockey for the 1953-54 season.

His most famous moment in racing
came just a few months before he retired, when, riding for Queen Elizabeth, his
horse collapsed inexplicably within sight of certain victory in the 1956 Grand
National.

Despite his many successes, he had
expressed regret at never winning the prestigious Grand National.

“The first one I rode in I was
second, and the last one I rode in I won everywhere except the last 25 yards. I
would love the opportunity of having another go, but it’s a young man’s
job,” he said once during an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp.

Francis’ first book, published in
1957, was his autobiography, titled “The Sport of Queens.” His first
novel, “Dead Cert,” came out in 1962 and was followed by a new title
every year since.

He also worked for years as a
racing correspondent for Britain’s Sunday Express, and retired in the British
Caribbean territory of the Cayman Islands.

Francis is survived by his two sons
as well as five grandchildren and one great-grandson, Cairns said. A small
funeral will be held at Francis’ home on Grand Cayman, followed by a memorial
service in London, she said, but could not say when they would be held.

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Dick Francis
Photo: File