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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.

Friday, 18 December 2020

How to Pick an Outsider

‘A difference of opinion is what makes horse racing and missionaries’, or so said American entertainer Will Rogers. He was right insofar as bookmakers’ odds are, after all, just an opinion of the likely outcome of a horse race. Bookmakers have an effective ‘jungle telegraph’ and are likely to be at least as well informed as the average punter but, even so, outsiders do win, and win fairly often.

In the absence of information that is not in the public domain, a.k.a. ‘inside’ information, from a jockey, owner or trainer, picking an outsider with a winning chance typically involves thinking ‘outside the box’ a little. Horses with recent winning, or placed, form, especially those that are attempting little or nothing more than they have achieved in the past, in terms of class, course, distance and going, are always likely to be at the forefront of the betting market for an upcoming race.

The other end of the market, where likely outsiders are to be found, is typically dominated by horses that have disappointed, for whatever reason, on recent starts. The trick, therefore, is to find a horse that has previously shown itself capable of winning the race under consideration and is undergoing a favourable change of circumstances. For example, a horse with winning form on good going may struggle to reproduce that form on soft, or heavy, going during the winter, but does not become devoid of ability, and may be capable of winning again under its preferred conditions.

Similar comments apply to the characteristics of the course, or courses, on which a horse has been running recently, the class in, and the distance over, which it has been competing and so on. In simple terms, look for a horse that is trying something ‘different’ from its recent races, which is likely to show it in a more favourable light. This could, say, extend to young horse making its handicap debut after showing signs of promise in ‘weight-for-age’ races. In this scenario, and others, speed ratings, such as those published under the ‘Topspeed’ banner in the Racing Post, can often provide insight into the value of previous form before it becomes obvious to the bookmakers.

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Mon Mome

Mon Mome, the 100/1 winner of the 2009 Grand National, was the latest of small, select band of horses – in fact, just five since 1839 – to win the celebrated steeplechase at treble-figure odds. However, bearing in mind that, a little over three months earlier, Venetia Williams’ nine-year-old had been sent off 9/2 favourite for the Welsh National at Chepstow, it can be argued that the bookmakers, for once, erred on the side of generosity by offering such long odds.

Mon Mome had completed the National Course once before, when finishing a distant tenth in 2008 but, in fairness, appeared to have little chance of reversing the form with the winner, Comply Or Die, who reopposed on just 8lb worse terms for 58 lengths. His most recent form, a similarly distant last of eight finishers in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter, offered little cause for encouragement and, with exactly 11 stone to carry, he looked to have plenty of weight.

Nevertheless, those who kept faith in the Passing Sale gelding were in for a pleasant, and lucrative, surprise. Patiently ridden by Liam Treadwell, Mon Mome made steady headway from the rear of the field towards the end of the first circuit and crossing the Melling Road for the final time was on the heels of the leaders. Second favourite My Will led over the second-last fence, but was headed by Comply Or Die on the run to the final obstacle. Mon Mome jumped the last upsides the defending champion and soon asserted, stretching clear on the run-in to win by 12 lengths.