The nature of horse racing is such that a winner for a long odds horse is about the only thing that is celebrated by both punters and bookmakers alike. It seems counter-intuitive, but the bookies love a horse with long odds winning because there are usually only a few people betting on it, meaning that the money that they make from favourites losing more than makes up for what they’ll lose on the outsider bets.
Punters love it, of course, because people always favour an outsider. On top of that, those that don’t understand how betting works assume that a horse with long odds will give bookmakers a bloody nose, which is something that bettors in general enjoy. Horses with long odds winning races will never not be fun, so here’s a look at some of the biggest stories from over the years of horse racing.
Biggest Odds Winners In Horse Racing
The Record Setter – 300/1
It’s unusual for horses to overtly display a sense of fear as they’re running on the track, though some will pull up at a fence if they just don’t fancy it. Even so, the owners of He Knows No Fear must have felt that they’d named him ironically when he was given odds of 300/1 for the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden at Leopardstown in the middle of August 2020.
The bookmakers, on the other hand, might well have thought that the odds weren’t long enough considering he’d finished 12th in a field of 14 when racing at Limerick a month before, doing so at odds of 250/1. Odds of 300/1 in a race with just 15 horse will always seem long, though, given the number of possible things that could happen to see such a horse romp home.
He Knows No Fear did exactly that, with the three-year-old colt making a late charge to take the win by a head from 98-rated Agitare. Owned by Luke Comer, who is also the horse’s trainer, He Knows No Fear had Chris Hayes on his back for the race at Leopardstown. Bred from one of Comer’s own stallions, Mourayan, and his own mare, it meant that the outsider was bred, trained and owned by the same man.
The win at odds of 300/1 set a new record for the win with the longest odds in horse racing history. The previous record had lasted for thirty years, having been set by Equinocital at Kelso in 1990. That race was run with a Starting Price of 250/1, so the leap in odds was fairly impressive. After all, most bettors would be delighted if a horse with odds of 50/1 won, let alone that being the difference between the two.
‘No Realistic Chance’ – 300/1
In jump racing winners with prices like this are incredibly rare because the horses are older compared with flat racing runners and you tend to know a bit more about them once they get to 4+ years, making unlikely surprises rare. Still, when they do happen they tend to happen with younger runners in maiden races.
That is exactly what happened on 24th May 2022 when four year old Sawbuck won the ‘Bar One Racing Quick Deposit & Withdraw Maiden Hurdle’ at Punchestown at 300/1 to set a new record for jump racing. The form for the young gelding in the previous six races had been 14 – 9 – 14 – 7 – 16 – 10 and in his two runs over hurdles he was been by an overall ninety eight lengths. The Racing Post described his chances before the race as:
“Modest sort with no realistic chance”
The horse, priced at 400/1 at one point before the race, was trained and ridden by father son duo Connor and Charlie O’Dwyer. Jockey Charlie was just as surprised as the bookies and punters to see the horse win and match the record for the highest odds winner in racing. He didn’t win by luck either due to other horses falling. Sawbuck disputed the lead from the start tracking in second place before taking the lead with a clear run to the line to win by four lengths.
Unfortunately only a small number of punters backed him and with low stakes and so overall the 300/1 winner was a big win for the bookies.
Winning At Wolverhampton – 200/1
Dandy Flame was just a novice when he lined up in the FCL Global Forwarding Making Logistics Personal Maiden Stakes at Wolverhampton in July of 2016. With nine other horses in the field and the fact that he’d finished 8th of 8 in his debut at Windsor earlier in the month, bookmakers had no problem installing him with odds of 200/1. Indeed, the fact that he finished 7th from 7 in his next two races suggests they weren’t far off.
Yet young horses can be unpredictable and the 2-year-old proved exactly that at Wolverhampton. Bookmakers will point to the Racing Post form guide, which declared that he’d looked ‘clueless’ in that previous race at Windsor, suggesting that a ‘massive improvement’ was needed. It was also what was delivered, with Dandy Flame winning by two and three-quarter lengths from Elegantly Bound.
Trained by Jose Santos, who also owned the horse, Dandy Flame joined an exclusive club when he won at such long odds. Santos said that he was ‘over the moon’ and confessed that he had had a bet on his horse in the 5 furlong race, but said that he ‘should have had more’ riding on him to win. The previous time that a horse had won with such long odds as 200/1 had been Light Of Broadway at Taunton in 2012.
The Classic Outsider – 200/1
When you consider that Theodore won the St Leger in 1822, it is somewhat remarkable that the win at odds of 200/1 remains the longest priced winner in any of the British Classics. The stallion had been foaled three years before, training in Yorkshire under James Croft. This will very much go down as one that the bookies got wrong, considering he’d won his second race and shown well as a 3-year-old.
The decision to give him such long odds was based on the fact that he had poor health and had not done well in training gallops, leading many to believe that he was going to be nothing but an also-ran in that year’s St Leger. When he ran poorly over the same distance on the same course two days later, allegations of race-fixing were soon bandied about. None of them stuck, with the allegations going unproven.
He joined 22 other horses in the Great St Leger Stakes at Doncaster and his owner and trainer will have fancied him, given he’d won his four previous races. Croft also had the horses that finished 2nd and 3rd in the race, both of whom also had long odds. Though he won the Manchester Gold Cup in 1824 and the Edinburgh Gold Cup the year after, Theodore never reached the same heights again.
The Irish Long-Odds – 200/1
Ireland is a country well-known for its love of horse racing, yet the bookmakers always seemed to get it right far more often than their English counterparts. It was rare for a horse with particularly long odds to win in Ireland, at least until Killahara Castle stepped up to the plate at Thurles ion the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Boreen Belle Mares Novice Hurdle. It was the 6-year-old’s 21st attempt in a Listed race, having won none of the others.
John Burke, the horse’s trainer, asked his brother Martin to ride the mare, with neither party expecting her to do much against the Willie Mullins trained True Self. She had gone off at odds of 8/13, but Killahara Castle led between the final two flights and eventually won by as much as 5 lengths. She made history in Ireland, with no horse having won there with such long odds before that.
The Grand National Winner – 100/1
There have been numerous Grand National winners with long odds over the years, which is part of what makes the race such a fan favourite. Whether it be Mon Mome in 2009 or Greglach exactly eighty years earlier, the race has often thrown up surprises. Yet none of the winners have been so impressive that they’ve ended up having a fence named in their honour, which is exactly what happened with Foinavon in 1967.
Given odds of 100/1, he was very much living up to his billing when he found himself in 22nd place as the leaders approached Becher’s Brook. The race was unexceptional at this point and doubtless Foinavon’s trainer, John Kempton, imagined that his decision to go to Worcester instead of watching the ‘World’s Greatest Steeplechase’ was a wise one. Then Popham Down, a riderless horse, decided to veer right in front of the fence.
That was when all hell broke loose, with a pileup in front of the fence causing a remarkable melee, with horses either pulling up or crashed into each other. Foinavon was far enough away from it all to slow to a canter, find a gap in the field and clear the fence. As the Canal Turn approached, Foinavon’s jockey, John Buckingham, couldn’t believe that he had a 30-length lead in the race.
Ultimately it was closer than it perhaps should have been, with the 15/2 favourite Honey End closing the gap, but it wasn’t enough to stop Foinavon from winning. He actually did so in a time that was faster than the winner the previous year, in spite of having been held up at the fence. In 1984 it was decided that the 7th / 23rd fence would be named Foinavon in honour of the horse’s exploits.
The Cheltenham Festival’s Longest Odds Winners
Given that this is a site dedicated to the Cheltenham Festival, it only feels right that we look at a few horses that have caused an upset or two at Prestbury Park over the years.
The Gold Cup Shock – 100/1
It’s impossible to talk about long odds horses during the Cheltenham Festival without jumping straight to the exploits of Norton’s Coin. Bred by Percy Thomas and owned jointly by him and the horse’s trainer Sirrell Griffiths, Norton’s Coin had begun his racing career in point-to-point outings, ridden by amateur jockey Tim Jones. In 1988 Jones had been asked about local horses by Peter Scudamore, declaring that the horse would win a Gold Cup.
Fast forward two years and it’s clear that the bookmakers didn’t agree with Jones, perhaps on the showing he put in in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park in December of 1989. After making several errors in that race and tiring towards the end, he finished dead last. Though his form improved as the Gold Cup approached, nobody could really see past the firm favourite of Desert Orchid.
There were only 12 runners for the 63rd renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, so the odds of 100/1 were surely slightly long regardless of what actually happened. Once the race got underway, Graham McCourt allowed his charge to take his time, but he’d moved into fourth by the third last. He drew level with Toby Tobias at the last and eventually beat him by three-quarters of a length to be the longest odds horse ever to win the blue riband event.
You’ve Got To Be Kidding – 80/1
No one was kidding when 80/1 outsider Jeff Kidder won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2021 at odds of 80/1. The four year old, ridden by Sean Flanagan and trained by Noel Meade, had shown some strong placings in the lead up to the Festival but no one expected the horse to seriously compete in the Supreme, alongside big names from Willie Mullins and Paul Nichols.
Despite showing good pace, especially on the run in, Jeff Kidder was discounted by the bookies and most punters as he was prone to making mistakes in races. There could not have been a better time for the young horse to run a perfect race though, producing a huge shock on day one of the Festival.
The 2021 festival had no crowds due to restrictions in place caused by coronavirus, many feel this may have helped Jeff, with more outsiders than usual winning that year. Including the popular Grand National horse, Vintage Clouds, who won the Festival Trophy Handicap Chase at 28/1 (at the fifth time of asking) on the same day.
Taking His Cue – 40/1
To horse racing fans of the modern day, Cue Card might well be considered one of the finest horses to grace the National Hunt circuit. It wasn’t always the case, however, and when he was entered into the Champion Bumper in 2010 he was considered an outsider and given odds of 40/1. That was in spite of the fact that he’d won his debut at Fontwell Park Racecourse just the month before.
Trained by Colin Tizzard and ridden by Joe, the long odds were due to the fact that the race at Fontwell Park had been a Class 6 outing and therefore not much stock was put in it. Shot From The Hip, a German horse, had been installed as the 3/1 favourite and competition for the win was expected to come from Tavern Times. Cue Card has always been a quality horse, however, and it showed.
He pulled away as the horses entered the final stretch, showing his class and winning from Al Ferof in second. Those that watch the Champion Bumper to get a sense of how a horse might develop will have followed Cue Card’s career with interest after the relatively easy win at such long odds. He went on to win 15 of 33 races, 9 of which were at Grade 1 level. They included the Ryanair Chase, the King George VI Chase and the Betfred Bowl.
On The Beech – 50/1
A win of 50/1 might not seem like the biggest shock in horse racing history when compared to many of the horses on this list, but it was enough of a surprise at the time to mean that the win of Beech Road in the 1989 renewal of the Champion Hurdle has made our list. The 7-year-old chestnut gelding had been trained in Hampshire by Tony Balding, owned by Tony Geake and ridden by Richard Guest.
The win is notable not only for the outsider nature of the winner but for the fact that it was the first win in the race for all three of the owner, trainer and jockey. Given Beech Road’s impressive win in the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell Racecourse in February of that year, where he won by twenty lengths, bookmakers will wonder in retrospect what made them offer such long odds for the horse in a field of 15.