Beltran de Osorio y Diez de Rivera, the “Iron” Duke of Albuquerque (1919-1994), was a Spanish aristocrat obsessed with horse-racing. After receiving a film of the Grand National as a gift for his eighth birthday, the Corinthian Duke set his sight on England’s greatest equestrian prize: “I said then that I would win that race one day,” he later recalled. He nearly died trying.
The amateur jockey entered the National seven times with impressively consistent results. Generally he would start with the others, gallop briefly and then wake up in the Royal Liverpool Infirmary (where apparently he always booked a private room when he rode in the race). Each year, Peter O’Sullevan would gravely intone: “And the Duke of Albuquerque’s gone”. On his first attempt in 1952, he fell from his horse at the sixth fence, nearly broke his neck and woke up later in hospital with a cracked vertebra. He tried to win again in 1963, and fell from his horse yet again, this time at the fourth fence. Undeterred, he returned in 1965 but again fell from his horse after it collapsed underneath him, breaking his leg. His ineptitude was so apparent that in 1963 bookies even offered odds of 66-1 – against him even finishing the race atop his horse! He returned in 1973 when his stirrup broke, although he clung on for eight fences before being sent into inevitable orbit. In 1974, after having sixteen screws removed from a leg he had broken after falling in another race, he also fell while training for the Grand National and broke his collarbone. Nevertheless, he then competed in a plaster cast, this time actually managing to finish the race for the only time in his splendid career, but only in eighth (and last) place aboard Nereo: “I sat like sack of potatoes and gave the horse no help” he said after the race. One anecdote from this race is that he barged into Ron Barry at second Canal Turn; Barry said “What the f*** are you doing?”, to which he replied: “My dear chap I haven’t a clue…I’ve never got this far before!” In 1976, he sustained his most serious injuries after being trampled in a race by several other horses. He suffered seven broken ribs, several fractured vertebrae, a broken wrist and thigh, and a major concussion, and was in a coma for two days. After recovering he announced, at the age of 57, that he planned to race yet again. Race organizers wisely revoked his license “for his own safety”. It has later been said that the Duque was not so bad after all -to finish eighth at the Grand National whilst in a cast is a formidable feat. However, his ability to command good quality horses owing to his wealth must have grated against professional jockeys, who have to compete against one another for the opportunity.