Former jockey, mystery novelist Francis dies

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 — honored 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 honor 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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