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Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Equinoctial


Horse racing, especially National Hunt racing, is notoriously unpredictable. The Grand National, of which there have been five winners at 100/1, is the most notorious of all, but other prestigious races, such as the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Champion Hurdle, have also featured winners at 33/1, 50/1 and 100/1.


However, the longest-priced winner in British horse racing history came not in a high-profile, ‘championship’ race, but rather in the Grants Whisky Novices’ Handicap Hurdle, an otherwise non-descript event run over 2 miles 6 furlongs at Kelso on November 21, 1990. The winner that day was Equinoctial, who was returned at a starting price of 250/1.

Equinoctial had won a maiden point-to-point at Askeaton in Co. Limerick in February, 1990, when trained by Eric McNamara, but had already passed through the hands of Michael Hourigan and Michael Dods before making his debut, as a five-year-old, for Norman Miller in a novices’ chase at Perth the following September. Sent off 10/1 third choice of the seven runners, he was tailed off as early as the fourth of the eighteen fences and pulled up well before halfway.


On his next start, in another novices’ chase at Southwell a month later, he fell at the first and jumped badly when again tailed off and pulled up at Catterick two weeks later. So, after three starts, and three non-completions, over regulation fences, Equinoctial was put back over hurdles – a sphere in which he had previously finished last of fourteen on his only previous attempt at Ballinrobe two years earlier – at Hexham two weeks later. Ridden for the first time by conditional jockey Andrew Heywood, who claimed 7lb, he did at least complete the course, albeit a respectful 62 lengths behind the winner, Tranquil Waters.


Two weeks later, Equinoctial and Heywood tried again, at Kelso, but with no worthwhile form under Rules and racing from 15lb out of the handicap proper, the gelding was, justifiably, given no earthly chance by the bookmakers. Nevertheless, under 9st 7lb, Equinoctial chased the leaders from the fourth-last flight of hurdles and stayed on under pressure to lead on the run-in and win by 3½ lengths. Aside from a place in the history books, his prize for doing so was just £2,385.


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