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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.