The Greatest Comeback: Aldaniti in the Grand National or Botham’s Headingley heroics?

Ian Botham

Which will win in our poll?

UK racing is back up and running, and one of the greatest comebacks in racing history features in our inaugural Greatest Comeback clash.

It’s the best of 1981 here – Aldaniti’s Grand National triumph is up against Ian Botham’s Headlingley heroics in the third Test of the Ashes.

Who’ll make it into the Greatest Comeback quarter-finals? That’s down to you.

Aldaniti in the 1981 Grand National

Aldaniti may have won the 1981 Grand National, with Bob Champion aboard, but both horse and jockey had to show immense resilience to get there.

Aldaniti will always be closely connected to Champion, who was in the saddle for each of the horse’s first 22 races.

However, the Sussex-born jockey was diagnosed with testicular cancer in July 1979. As he underwent months of chemotherapy, he was motivated by the dream of riding Aldaniti in the 1980 Grand National.

Unfortunately, that plan was scuppered when the iconic steeplechaser suffered a major tendon injury in his first race of the 1979/80 season, with Richard Rowe in the saddle.

The vet recommended that Aldaniti be put down after the injury – his third serious setback in three years. Owner Nick Embiricos didn’t follow that advice, though trainer Josh Gifford didn’t think the chestnut gelding would ever race again. He was happily proven wrong.

Champion came out of hospital in January 1980, still weakened from the effects of his treatment. He underwent a gruelling training regime and was back as Gifford’s stable jockey by August.

Now he was just waiting on his race partner to recover, and after a year of recuperation, the horse begun training for the 1981 Grand National.

Their only outing before the Aintree showpiece was the Whitbread Trial Handicap Chase at Ascot. Aldaniti announced himself as a serious contender after winning by four lengths.

By the time the National came around, his odds had been trimmed from 66/1 to 10/1 second-favourite.

With Champion riding, Aldaniti took the lead at the 11th fence and never let go, winning by four lengths to complete a remarkable comeback for the pair of them.

Ian Botham at Headingley in the 1981 Ashes

Heading into the third Test of the 1981 Ashes, Ian Botham and England were struggling badly .

Having been made England captain at 24, Botham struggled to live up to expectations. Under his leadership, the national team had suffered heavy defeats in successive series against the West Indies. They’d failed to win any of the 12 Tests during his time as captain, while his personal form seemed to crumble too.

After a dismal loss in 1981’s first Ashes test at Trent Bridge, then a draw at Lord’s, Mike Brearley took over the captaincy ahead of the third test at Headingley.

Now freed from the pressure of being captain, Botham reminded everyone just how good he was.

He took six for 95 in Australia’s first innings, scoring 50 runs in England’s. However, Australia still scored 401 for 9 declared, and with England only scoring 227, the hosts were forced to follow on.

What happened next cemented Botham’s name in legend. He came to the crease with his team at 105 for 5, and in need of 122 runs to avoid an innings defeat. The then 26-year-old delivered a sensational innings of 149 not out.

Australia then had a target of 130 to beat, but they were dismissed for 111, with the Botham-inspired England becoming only the second team in Test Match history to win after being made to follow on.

England went on to win the fourth and fifth Tests to retain the Ashes, with the series still often referred to as ‘Botham’s Ashes.’

Cast your vote

Which is your favourite – Aldaniti or Botham? Make your choice in our poll on Twitter, as we look to crown the Greatest Comeback.

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All odds and markets correct as of date of publication

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