It has been over 100 years since the Cheltenham Festival began. The first of the popular annual event took place at Prestbury Park in 1911. Then a two-day fixture, Cheltenham Festival has expanded to six races over four days in March, with crowds exceeding over 200,000 people and international television viewers tuning in to watch.
“People love going to Cheltenham,” said racing writer Sean Magee in an article in The Guardian. “People love being there. I don’t know how you define the atmosphere, but everyone feels there’s something special about it.”
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons Cheltenham’s audience has grown over the years is because of its shocking moments. There is nothing more exciting, it seems, then when an outsider races to a surprise victory and defies all betting odds.
The big event of the year is fast approaching, the excitement is rising and tips for day 1 of Cheltenham are already being published in scores.
We decided review some of the biggest outsider wins at Cheltenham over the past three decades to get you inspired for the surprises that, if luck prevails, might be to come.
Cue Card, 2010 Champion Bumper 40/1
At 40/1 odds, in 2010 Cue Card was essentially an unknown horse. Ridden by jockey Joe Tizzard, his staggering, eight-length win at the Champion over favourites like Al Ferof put Cue Card in the history books. The popular chaser retired after an eight-year career in 2018, but remains a legend of the Cheltenham Festival.
Countrywide Flame, 2012 Triumph Hurdle 33/1
Jockey Dougie Costello rode Countrywide Flame to victory at the 2012 Triumph Hurdle. At 33/1 odds to win, the dramatic race ended with Countrywide Flame three lengths in a second above Irish raider Hisaabaat, followed by 5-1 favourite Grumeti in third.
When interviewed afterwards, Costello said: “He’s not very big but he’s tough. Horses like this are brilliant.
Western Warhorse, 2014 Arkle Challenge Trophy 33/1
In the 2014, gelding Western Warhorse shocked the racing world – as well as both his trainer and jockey – with a victory of the Arkle Challenge Trophy. Beating out favourites like Champagne Fever and Rock on Ruby, Western Warhorse looked to be under pressure jumping forth out, but quickly galloped his way to success. It was an incredible moment, but for Western Warhorse, a short lived career; his glorious start was followed by a second race disappointment, and he has not been heard of since.
Hardy Eustace, 2004 Champion Hurdle 33/1
The 2004 Champions Hurdle saw archway gelding Hardy Eustace up against fan favourites like defending champion Rooster Booster and Paul Nicholls Rigmarole — and at 33/1 it didn’t seem like he had much of a chance. For the first time his trainer, Dessie Hughes, fitted blinkers to Hardy Eustace. With new-found focus, audiences were shocked to see the horse was in front, and eventually beat out Rooster Booster by five lengths.
Norton’s Coin, 1990 Gold Cup 100/1
For those who were lucky enough to witness it in person, the 1990 Gold Cup was an unforgettable race, and resulted in a story that has almost become Cheltenham Festival mythology. Up against legendary race horses like Toby Tobias and Desert Orchid, Norton’s Coin was a 100/1 outsider with little faith behind him. That is, besides his trainer, Sirrel Griffiths, who with just three horses worked primarily as a dairy farmer.
“It was my hobby,” said Griffiths to the BBC. “I never had any ambitions and was quite happy just working with the horses at home and having the odd runner in a race.”
Griffiths drove Norton’s Coin to Cheltenham the day of the race after milking his cows. The Gold Cup win of the “plain looking” chestnut thoroughbred shocked the nation, and inspired a new, international generation of fans. It was arguably one of the greatest coups in Cheltenham Festival history.
The rest is still unwritten
With the 2019 Cheltenham Festival only weeks away, there can only be many more shock wins and surprises ahead. Greatness can be glimpsed in a flash; there is definitely many more greatest gambling coups to come.