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Monday, 15 March 2021

Spanish Don

Generally speaking, it would be fair to say that bookmakers don’t make too many mistakes and, even in a race as competitive as the Cambridgeshire Handicap at Newmarket – the second leg of the traditional ‘Autumn Double’ – most horses that are sent off at 100/1 fully deserve to be that price. However, Spanish Don who, in 2004, became the joint-longest-priced winner of the aforementioned Cambridgeshire definitely didn’t.

Indeed, reflecting on the ‘unlikely’ victory of his six-year-old, winning trainer David Elsworth quipped, ‘I suppose it’s my popularity that made him 100-1.Even the muppets in the Racing Post said you couldn’t leave him out. It was a surprise he was 100-1. It wasn’t a surprise he won. I had a few quid on, but I’m a mug punter, aren’t I?’

In the preceding two seasons, Spanish Don had won four of his nine starts for Elsworth, after being transferred from Philip Mitchell in September, 2003 and, in so doing, risen 20lb in the weights. On his two starts immediately before the Cambridgeshire, the Zafonic gelding had again run well, off his revised mark of 95, when fifth of fifteen, beaten just two lengths, in a Class 2 handicap over 1 mile 2 furlongs at Goodwood and, after a short break, finishing ninth of eighteen, beaten 5¾ lengths, in a similar race at Newbury. Based on those performances, it could be argued that Spanish Don was, perhaps, a little high in the weights, but quite how that equated to a triple-figure starting price remains something of a mystery.

Monday, 22 February 2021

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Norton’s Coin

The Cheltenham Festival is, of course, the pinnacle of National Hunt racing and, granted the host of competitive races on offer, long-priced winners are to be expected. However, the longest-priced winner in the history of the Cheltenham Festival came not, as you might expect, in a traditional ‘cavalry charge’, such as the Coral Cup, Pertemps Final or County Hurdle, but in the Cheltenham Gold Cup itself.

Indeed, the victory of 100/1 outsider Norton’s Coin in the 1990 Cheltenham Gold Cup was reported in the ‘Racing Post’ the following day under the headline ‘Shock of the Century’. In a real-life rags-to-riches story to rival the fictional ‘National Velvet’, Norton’s Coin was bred, owned and trained by Sirrell Griffiths, a permit-holder from Carmarthenshire in West Wales, who had just three horses at the time. Griffiths had originally intended to run Norton’s Coin in a handicap chase, but failed to declare the nine-year-old. He opted for the Gold Cup instead when he learned that Jenny Pitman intended to run a horse that Norton’s Coin had beaten, seeking to finish in the first five or six to recoup his entry fee.

Despite his eye-watering starting price, Norton’s Coin never gave his supporters – not that he had many – an anxious moment. On the prevailing good to firm going, he was always travelling well under jockey Graham McCourt and, having taken the lead on the infamously stiff ‘Cheltenham Hill’, battled on to hold third-favourite Toby Tobias by three-quarters of a length. Defending champion, and odds-on favourite, Desert Orchid finished third, a further four lengths away, and the winning time, 6 minutes 30.9 seconds.