Shock and Awe: The Greatest Upsets in Cheltenham Festival History

Cheltenham Horses JumpingWith Theresa May planning a ‘robust response’ to the perpetrators of the poisoning of Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, now is probably a good time for us to leave politics to one side for the time being.

If said perpetrators do turn out to have links with Vladimir Putin, the odds of us having to adapt to a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland have shrunk with the bookmakers accordingly.

All joking aside, Theresa let’s not make enemies with Russia, yeah?

We need something to take our minds off that impending doom, and what better way than with a celebration of the finest four-day stint in horse racing: next week’s Cheltenham Festival

The best horses in the business will take to the two courses at Prestbury Park, with trainers and owners eyeing the millions of pounds in prize money that is available to be won.

And punters, whether hardened veterans or those who enjoy the occasional flutter, all have their eye on trousering a few quid on account of backing a few winners.

The uninitiated will back the favourites blindly, and that is a foolhardy strategy for a number of reasons; this list below of some of the greatest shock results in Cheltenham Festival history is testament to that.

Gold Cup 1990: The Hundred Club – Fox Norton (100/1)

It’s fair to say that 100/1 winners are as rare as hen’s teeth in any sport, but particularly so in horse racing.

In one of the biggest races on the circuit, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, a 100/1 shot is a veritable donkey compared to the outstanding sorts that jostle for favouritism in the hunt for one of racing’s most prestigious prizes.

So little chance was given to Fox Norton, a huge outsider for the 1990 Gold Cup whose back story reads like something out of a Rocky Balboa script.

His owner, Sirrel Griffiths, was a dairy farmer by trade, whose trained just three horses. On the day of the Gold Cup he was up at the crack of dawn milking his herd like it was just any other day.

You suspect that Griffiths travelled to Cheltenham for the hell of it; how many people can say they’ve had a horse run at the festival….especially in the same race as the great Desert Orchid.

What unfolded was true Roy of the Rovers stuff, as Norton Coin jumped like a superstar to leave Desert Orchid and the rest trailing in his wake to claim the spoils.

Remarkably, Griffiths admitted after that he had only entered his horse into the Gold Cup after missing the deadline for a low-key handicap race at the festival!

Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 2007: Reigning Supreme – Ebaziyan (40/1)

The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is the traditional curtain-raiser of the festival, and a number of fine horses have been identified in this early-career race; the likes of Douvan, Vautour and Altior have all taken the spoils through the years.

While the field tends to include some of the finest young horses around, it also features those who meet the ‘novice’ requirements but who aren’t quite of the same class as those around them.

One such case was Ebaziyan, trained by Willie Mullins but with an unremarkable record of three wins in eight starts until that point.

A flat horse by trade until Mullins got his hands on him, Ebaziyan shocked the field and rather ruined punters’ days by outpacing the 2/1 favourite, Amaretto Rose, to claim the biggest win of his career.

Amazingly, the grey would win just two of the twenty-two races he would compete in during the rest of his career, which shows that every dog has his day – even at Cheltenham.

Juvenile Handicap Hurdle 2012: Life-Changer – Une Artiste (40/1)

The Juvenile Handicap Hurdle is not considered to be one of the more prestigious races of the festival. The renewal, which features the name of legendary trainer Fred Winter in its full title, was only added to the festival listing in 2009 when the fourth day was created, and its Group 3 status confirms that it is more filler than fantastic.

Even so, punters would have scooped a rather handy payout had they spotted the potential of Une Artiste, an unheralded sort from the Nicky Henderson yard who stormed to victory at a price of 40/1.

Somebody who did recognise the upside of Une Artiste was Conor Murphy, a young stablehand at the Henderson stables. He had added the horse to a six-fold accumulator bet prior to the festival starting; all of his selections won, landing the young Irishman a payout of a rather cool £1 million!

Champion Bumper 2010: On the Cards – Cue Card (40/1)

Given his outstanding career since, it is rather surprising to note that Cue Card was once a 40/1 jolly at the festival.

He has won an incredible fifteen Group 1 races since those early days in 2010, including the festival’s Ryanair Chase.

But at four-years-old with an unremarkable early career record, the Colin Tizzard trained gelding was not expected to pull up any trees in a Champion Bumper renewal which featured strong entries from Mullins, Henderson and co.

But he stormed up the hill to take the spoils and hint at what we would all later know for sure: this was a horse operating on a different plain to the absolute majority.