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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.


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