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Tributes as Dick Francis dies at 89

Leading horse racing figures and authors have paid tribute to a "people's champion" after the death of Dick Francis, the jockey turned best-selling thriller writer.

Francis (89) was hailed by his peers as his son, Felix, confirmed the author's death yesterday, saying relatives were "devastated" at the sudden loss of an "extraordinary" father.

Frederick Forsyth praised Francis's "immensely prolific" output of "page-turners" and said authors were still "walking in his footsteps".

Francis, the author of 42 novels, was "rightly acclaimed" as one of the world's greatest thriller writers, his spokesman said. In his previous career as a champion jockey, he was famously riding Devon Loch when the horse collapsed within sight of the winning post in the 1956 Grand National.

Queen Elizabeth would be saddened to learn of his death, Buckingham Palace said.

Francis, who lived the Cayman Islands in his later years, died of "old age", his spokesman said.

Son Felix added: "My brother, Merrick, and I are, of course, devastated by the loss of our father, but we rejoice in having been the sons of such an extraordinary man."

Francis was also one of the most successful post-war National Hunt jockeys, winning more than 300 races.

He retired from racing in 1957 and took up writing.

The horse racing fraternity paid a string of tributes.

Former BBC commentator Peter O'Sullevan said Francis was one of the "people's champions".

John Francome, the former jockey, said: "He was a lovely person who always had a sparkle in his eye and he had a wicked sense of humour.

His wife, Mary, to whom he was married for 53 years, died in 2000.