LONDON - Prolific British author Dick Francis, a former jockey whose thrillers rode high in best-selling lists for decades, has died at the age of 89, his family said.
He passed away at his Caribbean home in Grand Cayman from "old age", according to a statement released through his publicist.
His son, Felix, said on Sunday he was "devastated" as he paid tribute to his "extraordinary" father, who produced 42 novels.
Francis specialised in plots based on the horse racing industry, drawing on his own experiences of winning more than 350 races.
He turned to writing after hanging up his saddle in the 1950s and was still producing novels at the end of his life.
"Even Money", which he co-authored with Felix, came out in September 2009 and "Crossfire" will be published in August this year.
Felix said: "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.
"We share in the joy that he brought to so many over such a long life. It is an honour for me to be able to continue his remarkable legacy through the new novels."
Francis spoke in later life of how he was still haunted by his ride on Devon Loch, a horse owned by the Queen Mother which suddenly slipped when he appeared certain to win the 1956 Grand National.
He recalled in 2006: "The Devon Loch episode was a terrible thing but I look back on it now and I can say that if it hadn't happened I might never have written a book, and my books have certainly helped keep the wolf from the door."
After retiring from racing in 1957, Francis took up writing, first for the Sunday Express newspaper and then, in 1962, he turned to novels.
His wife, Mary, to whom he was married for 53 years, died in 2000. He had five grandchildren and one great grandson.
A small funeral is planned at his home in Grand Cayman, followed by a memorial service in London, his spokesman said.
Queen Elizabeth II, who inherited her mother's keen interest in racing and owning racehorses, will be "saddened" by the news of Francis' death, Buckingham Palace said.
The racing fraternity also paid tribute. The former voice of racing on the BBC, Peter O'Sullevan, said Francis was one of the "people's champions".
He said: "He was a very good mate. The last time he wrote to me was just before Christmas and he said he was very weak.
"I particularly enjoyed reading his novels and found him a wonderfully efficient author."
Former champion jockey John Francome praised Francis as a "lovely person" with a "wicked sense of humour".
"I remember we used to laugh out loud about the old times and he did say to me that he would have happily given up all the success he achieved as an author to have won the (Grand) National on Devon Loch."
Francis also had a distinguished military career, initially stationed in the Egyptian desert for the Royal Air Force before he was commissioned as a pilot in 1943.