When it comes to betting on horse racing, everyone hopes to get it right with a wager on an outsider. Indeed, it is common practice for a lot of people when betting on a big-field even such as the Grand National to pick one short odds horse, one with middling chances and one rank outsider.
Whilst the Grand National is a bit of a lottery thanks to the size and nature of the fences that the horses have to get over whilst completing the circuit, the same isn’t true of the smaller racecourse around Ireland and the United Kingdom.
With this in mind, it is perhaps somewhat surprising that it has taken until the end of May 2022 for the record to be set for the longest odds of a winner in a horse race. With little hope being given to Sawbuck in the Maiden Hurdle, few people were surprised at his odds of 300/1 in the opening race of the day at Punchestown.
Even his jockey, Charlie O’Dwyer, declared himself to be ‘completely surprised’ in the wake of the win. Surprising though it may have been, it is a result that makes the record books for the world of jump racing.
On Tuesday the 24th of May 2022, racing took place at the Irish racecourse of Punchestown. In the first race of the day, the Bar One Racing Quick Deposit & Withdraw Maiden Hurdle, 22 horses took to the turf in what was a large field. Vocito was the 10/3 favourite, but the field was littered with horses with long odds that some racegoers fancied on account of the number of horses taking part in the race.
Pharisees was rated at 125/1, for example, whilst both of South East Star, Plough on had odds of 200/1 and Word of Wisdom was a 250/1 chance.
All of those horses were considered to have a better chance of winning than, Snugsborough Jc, Luck of the Irish, Elle Dorado Rock and Sawbuck, who boasted Starting Prices of 300/1 apiece. In the Racing Post, the description for Sawbuck stated that he was a ‘modest sort with no realistic chance’, so it isn’t unfair to suggest that few people imagined that Sawbuck would have the impact on the race that he did. That is backed up by Sawbuck’s previous performances, wherein he finished 14th, ninth, 14th, seventh, 16th and 10th.
In other words, Sawbuck had not finished in the places in any of his previous stars, two of which had been over hurdles and the rest on the flat. This might help to explain his Betfair Starting Price of 999/1. He belied his odds, however, when he tracked the leaders from the off, led after the second before dropping back at the fourth and then led again two from home.
He wasn’t fluent over the last but by that stage had already asserted himself with a three length lead, being ridden well to hold on for a four-length victory over Ballybawn Belter.
The victory for Sawbuck meant that he went into the record books as the longest-odds winner in a jump race. He matched the achievement of He Knows No Fear, who won on the flat for Luke Comer at the same racecourse back in 2020. He had also been rated as a 300/1 outsider, beating the previous record of 250/1 that had been set by Equinocital at Kelso in 1990.
In a strange coincidence, He Knows No Fear had also endured a poor previous outing, coming in 12th of 14 in Limerick the month before at odds of 250/1.
Charlie O’Dwyer was riding the horse for his trainer father Conor. Speaking after the race, he said,
“He’s been in great form at home and after his last two runs over hurdles, I came here thinking if he could finish somewhere in the middle of them, I would have been delighted. The minute the flag dropped he travelled great and I couldn’t fault him anywhere.”
He obviously outperformed O’Dwyer’s wish of a middle-place finish, setting the record for a long odds winner in jump racing that had previously been held by Killahara Castle at 200/1.
The horse’s trainer, Conor O’Dwyer, has history of doing well in jump racing. In 1996, O’Dwyer won that most prestigious of jump races, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He did so on the back of Imperial Call, an Irish horse that was a specialist steeplechaser. He ran in National Hunt races 32 times during his career, winning 16 of them.
Of those victories, two of them were big races at Punchestown, in 1998 and 1999, though neither of those were with O’Dwyer in the saddle. Even so, it shows a desire to win that runs through the family.
Other Long Odds Winners
Elsewhere on this site you can read a piece dedicated to talking about horses that have won with long odds. One of the surprising things that you’ll notice when you get into it is how few of the long odds winners that feature in the article were winners over jumps.
That tends to be because the very nature of jump racing is such that bookmakers tend to avoid offering long odds on the horses that take part in the events. That is perhaps best summed up by the experience of Foinavon in the Grand National that took place back in 1967.
A loose horse named Popham Down veered to his right at the 23rd fence, causing a mass pileup of other horses. Foinavon had been travelling steadily but slowly was far back enough to miss the melee and jump the fence relatively easily. He notched up a 30-length lead, making him all but uncatchable and seeing him win the race at odds of 100/1.
Though that was decades ago, it has always served a lesson to bookies to be cautious when setting their prices in jump races; a lesson it appeared they forgot in May of 2022.