SAT astride his beloved rocking horse, a young Sam Waley-Cohen envisioned himself winning the Grand National.
And on Saturday, the dream of the 39-year-old amateur jockey finally came true he took the crown – in his biggest win since he fetched Prince William and Kate Middleton back together after a brief breakup in the early days of their romance.
It was Sam’s tenth attempt at Aintree, although he announced earlier last week that it would be the final race of his career.
His 50/1 horse Noble Yeats – the youngest winner of the famous race since 1940 – was bought by his horse trainer father Robert just two months ago.
An emotional Sam described his shock victory as a “fairy tale”.
After his triumph, he said: “I can’t say anything – it’s a dream. I could not believe it.”
The father-of-two added, “It’s a fairy tale — I’m filled with love, happiness and gratitude.”
He also thanked his father and his “long-suffering” wife, Annabel, for their support Tribute to his late brother Thomaswho died of cancer in 2004 at the age of just 20.
Sam said: “Thomas rode with me today – his name is on my saddle.
“When you lose someone you love, you realize that you should make the best of life and also try to put a lot of energy into each day because you don’t know if it will be your last.”
Most Read in Horse Racing
Among Sam’s many well-wishers were close friends, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who tweeted their congratulations, adding: “What a way to retire!”
Ahead of Saturday’s big win, perhaps his greatest claim to fame was as the royal matchmaker, who helped reignite the romance between the young lovebirds following their much-publicized split in 2007.
As a youth, Sam divided his time between his family’s 17th-century manor house in Banbury, Oxfordshire, where he studied at the Dragon School and St Edward’s School, and London, where he and his brother Thomas were pupils at Wetherby for a time Pre-Prep were school – attended by Princes William and Harry.
His father Robert, 73, is the son of a baronet, founder of the highly successful radiology provider Alliance Medical and a leading racehorse owner.
His mother, Felicity, 74, is the daughter of Viscount Bearstead, a member of the Hill Samuel banking dynasty, and ran a gallery.
His maternal great-great-grandfather, Viscount Bearsted, founded Shell Oil, while his uncle, theater owner Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen, produces The Mousetrap, the world’s longest-running play.
Despite the family’s vast wealth and privileges, Robert seems to have kept youngest child Sam’s feet firmly on the ground – or in the saddle.
In a speech in 2012, Robert said: “One of the joys of lawns is that you meet people from all different backgrounds.
“The old adage that everyone is equal on and under the lawn is absolutely true.
“If you’re a top-notch coach, no one cares if your father was a bookie, like Martin Pipe, or a cop, like Paul Nicholls’, or a partner at Cazenove, like Nicky Henderson’s.”
Unlike professional jockeys, amateurs do not receive prize money.
But that hardly seems to matter as Sam’s successful dental company Portman Dental Care is valued at £300million.
And it was always the win that mattered most to Sam.
Following his son’s win, Robert said: “It’s an amazing story and Sam has dreamed of winning this since he ‘rided’.
Auntie Dot (third at the 1991 Grand National) on his rocking horse when he was a young child.
“So this really is a lifelong dream come true.”
His parents often took Sam and his three siblings, Marcus, 44, Jessica, 43, and his late brother Thomas to spend days in Aintree.
Sam recalls, “We used to come here as kids and there was an ice cream stand where you could get free samples and we would go up and down every race to get free samples.
“So it was part of my childhood and what’s probably made me want to ride year after year is trying to come back and have that kind of feeling.”
But Sam’s idyllic childhood was shattered when 10-year-old Thomas was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, in 1995.
That year, Thomas – completely bald after grueling chemotherapy – was pictured presenting Princess Diana with a bouquet of flowers.
His former gallerist mother is the longtime vice-chairman of the Serpentine Gallery, of which the late royal was a patron.
At the age of 14, Thomas – who had his left leg amputated below the knee – transferred from Oxford’s Dragon School to Marlborough College, where he met Kate Middleton, although they weren’t in the same year.
“YOU HAVE MADE YOURSELF”
Sam later became friends with Kate while studying in Scotland; Sam studied politics at Edinburgh University while Kate went to St Andrew’s University in Fife, where she met Prince William in 2001.
They started dating in 2003 and lived with a group of other students before graduating in 2005.
They separated temporarily for around ten weeks in 2007.
While Kate was rumored to be ready to get engaged, William reportedly got cold feet as speculation about their engagement mounted.
The royal couple are believed to have reconciled at a so-called Freakin Naughty-themed party thrown by Sam at his family’s land pile.
William wore hot pants and a policeman’s helmet, while Kate dressed as a “cheeky” nurse in fishnet tights and a short dress.
That night they were spotted deep in conversation – and a few weeks later they flew to the Seychelles.
Modest Sam was keen to downplay his involvement in the reunion, saying in 2011: “There’s a notion that I was like Cupid with a bow and arrow.
“People love the idea of someone putting them back together, but they put themselves back together a lot more.
“They’ve both been friends for a long time. I think they got back together on their own.”
Nonetheless, Kate wanted to return the favor and in 2008 she helped Sam organize an ’80s-style charity scooter disco.
In the first seven years after his brother’s tragic death, Sam helped raise more than £1million for a new children’s hospital in Oxford, which has a ward named after Tom.
Wearing a green sequined halter top and yellow hot pants, Kate showed William – who was then working full-time as a search and rescue pilot for RAF helicopters – what he was missing.
She was pictured fooling around on her roller skates before suffering a fall and being helped to her feet by a gallant Sam, who was wearing a pink jacket.
Some critics accused Kate of letting the monarchy down with her temporary oversight, but faithful Sam stood up for his pal, saying: “The snipers really pissed me off.
“The whole event took place in a really good mood with everyone looking to have a good time and raise money for charity.
“And actually it just showed what a normal person Kate is. She was there to have fun and she fell.
“What’s the problem here?”
When the Cambridges married in 2011, Sam was at the top of the invite list.
Kate and sister Pippa were also present when he tied the knot with Annabel Ballin, 40, who runs a children’s party planning company, the following year.
The couple have three children, Max, nine, Scarlett, seven, and Alexander, two, who stood by his side on the podium to celebrate his epic win.
Now that the weekend’s celebrations are over, Sam – who founded Portman Dental Care in 2009 – will today quietly return to his day-to-day work, running 250 dental practices in five countries.
And while he’s been urged to get back in the saddle, he’s adamant it was the last furlong and he can’t reverse his decision to retire.
Sam, who turns 40 on Saturday, said: “Thinking about doing that again is fool’s gold.
“I made my decision, I had the dream ride and what a way to go.”
Because just like Kate, who killed her prince and will one day become queen, he has his fairytale ending.
https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/18226089/grand-national-winner-kate-william/ How Grand National winner Sam Waley-Cohen saved Kate Middleton and helped her and William reunite