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Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Grand National Outsiders Over The Years

The Grand National was first run, as the Grand Liverpool Steeplechase, in 1839 and has produced five winners at 100/1, the most famous of which must be Foinavon. In 1967, at the twenty-third fence, which now bears his name, Foinavon was the only horse to avoid a mêlée caused by the riderless Popham Down, which brought everything else in the race to a standstill. Gifted a lead of 30 lengths or so, Foinavon and jockey John Buckingham made the best of their way home and, although hotly pursued by the favourite, Honey End, who had been remounted, they crossed the line 15 lengths ahead for an unlikely success.

Of course, 42 years later, Mon Mome emulated Foinavon by winning the 2009 Grand National at 100/1 and did so in rather more orthodox circumstances. In fact, Mon Mome had finished tenth in the National, albeit beaten 58 lengths, the previous year and, earlier in the 2008/09 season, had started favourite for the Welsh National at Chepstow. Nevertheless, after a series of indifferent efforts, he was considered to have little or no chance, but returned to form with a vengeance, sweeping clear on the run-in to beat the 2008 winner, Comply Or Die by 12 lengths. Of course, his win made trainer Venetia Williams just the second woman, after Jenny Pitman, to saddle a National winner.

Speaking of which, four years later, in 2013, along came another horse with little or no chance, according to the layers, Auroras Encore, to carve his name into Grand National history at 66/1. Coincidentally, trained by another woman, Sue Smith, Auroras Encore had no previous experience of the National fences, but had shown himself well suited by a test of stamina when just touched off in the Scottish Grand National, over 4 miles, at Ayr the previous season. However, he had failed to trouble the judge in seven subsequent starts, including three non-completions, so despite being 6lb lower in the weights than at Ayr, he lined up at Aintree as a largely unconsidered ‘rag’. However, he gave his supporters few anxious moments and, having taken up the running at the final fence, stayed on well to win by 9 lengths.

So as we see illustrated here, depending on your perspective, an outsider winning the Grand National can be viewed to be anything from panning for gold and a real freak event, to something more akin to a golden opportunity. It could certainly be something you keep in mind as you decide who to bet on in Grand National 2020 and are able to spot the diamond in the rough from the many 'also rans'. This can be especially fruitful on the exchanges where outsider odds reach mind boggling proportions. Some however, will consider the likelihood to be a little too few and far between, instead prefering to opt for a favourite or at least a proven selection. It's 'horses for courses'  and there's always an aspect of luck to an event with so many variables. Good luck to you whatever your individual approach may be!

Friday, 24 January 2020

You Can’t Win If You Don’t Enter: Cheltenham Gold Cup Outsiders

The Cheltenham Gold Cup was first run, as a steeplechase, in 1924 and, with the exception of five cancellations – two during World War II and three more for frost, flooding and foot-and-mouth disease – has been run every year since. However, in the long, illustrious history of the most prestigious steeplechase in Britain the winner has been returned at odds of 33/1, or longer, just three times.

The first ‘shock’ winner of the ‘Blue Riband’ event was Gay Donald, trained by Jim Ford and ridden by Tony Grantham, at 33/1 in 1955. Gay Donald cost £225 as a unbroken four-year-old and had not previous shown himself to be a top-class steeplechaser but, on difficult ground, he soon poached a long lead, which he never surrendered, despite blundering his way through the final two fences.

Also sent off at ‘double carpet’ was the 1970 winner, L’Escargot, although to his credit he also won the Cheltenham Gold Cup again in 1971, when sent off 7/2 joint-favourite. On the first occasion, though, despite showing decent form beforehand, he started an unconsidered outsider. His cause was helped, in no small part, by the fall of hot favourite Kinloe Brae at the third-last fence, but he stayed on stoutly up the hill to beat French Tan by 1½ lengths.

Next up, in the chronicle of Cheltenham Gold Cup outsiders, is the ‘daddy of them all’, Norton’s Coin who, at 100/1, was the longest-priced winner in the history of the race. Unfashionably bred, and one of just three horses trained by Carmarthen permit-holder Sirrell Griffths, Norton’s Coin was originally intended to run in the Cathcart Challenge Cup, but by the time Griffiths realised he wasn’t qualified entries for the Mildmay of Flete, his second choice, had already closed. Despite an early mistake, Norton’s Coin was always travelling well under Graham McCourt and led on the run-in to beat Toby Tobias and odds-on-favourite Desert Orchid by three-quarters of a length and four lengths, smashing the course record in the process.