Bob Champion, an English steeplechase jockey, is stricken with cancer in 1979. His dreams of winning the 1981 Grand National Steeplechase seem dim indeed as he undergoes chemotherapy to fight the malignancy in his lungs. Supported by his sister Mary (Alison Steadman), his lover Jo (Jan Francis), his boss (Edward Woodward), and his American friend (Ben Johnson), the courageous jockey grapples with the disease until it lets him go.

John Hurt gives this melodrama its solid center by vividly conveying Champion's gallantry in the face of pain and his determination to ride in the Grand National. Equally impressive is the ability of his horse Aldaniti to recover from a torn tendon and leap like a four-legged god over the treacherous obstacles in the four-and-a-half mile event. Champions begins with tragedy and ends in triumph. The fact that it is a true story makes it all the more amazing.