The thrill of landing a winner in a horse race is quite something and watching your pick surge clear of the field and cross the finishing line first is hard to beat. If you happen to have backed it at big odds then clearly that thrill is all the more intense. Each and every day there are winners at decent odds, with victors at double-digit prices occurring all the time and winners at 25/1, 33/1 and even bigger not uncommon.
From time to time we even see horses successfully backed at whopping triple-digit odds, the sort of win that even from a tiny stake delivers a handsome profit. But what are the biggest odds winners ever in horse racing? Let’s take a look.
Biggest Racing Winner: 300/1 Shot Defies Odds
We saw a winner at record-breaking odds of 300/1 on the 13th of August, 2020 – a date that was certainly lucky for some. The horse was rather fittingly named, with He Knows No Fear certainly defying any fear of failure, the odds and indeed 14 other horses to land the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden at Leopardstown in Ireland.
- 1st – He Knows No Fear – 300/1
- 2nd – Agitare – Evens
- 3rd – Pin Your Hopes – 9/1
That win delivered a huge win to anyone brave, or mad, enough to back He Knows No Fear, whilst the Tote Exacta paid a whopping €967.60 for anyone who correctly called the first two runners home. Not a bad afternoon’s work.
Luke Comer will have been doubly pleased as both the trainer and owner of the winner, with the County Meath-based billionaire, a former plasterer and then property developer, having also bred the horse. Chris Hayes was in the saddle as He Knows No Fear, 12th of 14 in his only run prior to making history, saw off the even money favourite by just a head, pinching the win on the line with a strong last furlong. Jim Gorman, the trainer’s assistant, said:
He got left half a furlong in Limerick (where he had finished 12th in his first run as a 250/1 shot) – so we didn’t really know much after it – and because some of our horses weren’t in great form at the time, we backed off them. Going to Limerick we thought he was a real nice horse but he got left so far we couldn’t get any kind of guide to him. It was great because it’s one of Luke’s own stallions [Mourayan] and his own mare. That gives him the greatest thrill, to breed his own.
To paraphrase the Little Britain Dennis Waterman sketch, what a day for Comer: he bred the winner, owned the winner and trained the winner – and probably backed the winner too. Oh, and did we mention it was 300/1?
Other Winners at Huge Odds
Of course, He Knows No Fear is far from the first horse to strike at odds that are hard to believe. In fact, proving, if proof was needed (it really, really wasn’t) that 2020 is a strange old year, this 300/1 success wasn’t even the first monster-odds winner of the year.
Intercessor – 200/1
Back in June Cieren Fallon landed a 200/1 winner at Newbury. The It’s Not Rocket Science With MansionBet Novice Stakes (catchy name!) at Newbury was won by Intercessor, who opened at odds of 80/1 before the market clearly dismissed his chances.
In a race that was very open, the three year old gelding more or less made all in the one mile contest. As with He Knows No Fear, this was his second race, after he finished sixth of seven at Salisbury over six furlongs around a year earlier. Also in common with our 300/1 record-holder, Intercessor (the word means “a person who intervenes on behalf of another, especially by prayer” in case you were interested!) saw off an even money favourite by a head.
Since Cieren Fallon, son of Kieren, guided him to victory, Intercessor has rather reverted to type, finishing plum last at Doncaster and then only managing to beat one at Ascot when sent off at 100/1.
Dandy Flame – 200/1
Intercessor’s success, staggering though it was, was only the joint-longest odds winner in the history of Flat racing in Britain. As recently as 2016, Dandy Flame won at the same odds of 200/1 at Wolverhampton. In the build-up to that contest the Racing Post had said that Dandy Flame needed “massive improvement” after it “looked clueless” on debut.
Having finished last out of eight runners first time out it certainly got the required improvement, much to the delight of owner-trainer, Berkshire-based Jose Santos. Another “write the theme tune…” sort of affair, Santos said, “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a bet on him, but I should have had more.” Well, we’ve all been there thinking we should have had more after our horse has won but at 250/1 we have to feel Santos was being just a shade greedy there!
Dandy Flame made light work of the five furlong dash at Wolverhampton, seeing off 10/1 shot Elegantly Bound by a handsome two and three quarter lengths. It was an Irish 1-2-3 with Goodwood Crusader third at 3/1, the trifecta paying a whopping £5,614.80!
Lights of Broadway – 200/1
Going back further there was another 200/1 winner a further four years prior to that, with Lights of Broadway bashing the bookies – assuming anyone was crazy enough to back the mare – in the European Breeders’ Fund Mares’ “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle early in 2012. She saw off 50/1 shot Wishes And Stars by less than a length, the Exacta that day paying more than £1,700.
That was one of three wins for the National Hunt horse, the other two coming at odds of 10/1 and 15/2. Her first win came on her fifth start but despite several changes of trainer during her career she never really made much impression, ending with total career winnings of just £14k. Let’s hope connections had plenty on her for that first ever 200/1 success!
Biggest Winner in UK Racing: 250/1
For the longest odds winner in UK racing history, we have to go back even further to November 1990. On the 21st of the month, Equinoctial, both owned and trained by John Sisterson at the end of his career but then a recent purchase of Normal Miller, headed north to Kelso for the Grants Whisky Novices’ Handicap Hurdle. Having had a woeful season up to that point, odds of 250/1 were arguably on the skinny side. The gelding’s results following a 213-day break read:
- 9th November – eighth of 10, beaten by 62 lengths at Hexham
- 27th October – pulled up at Catterick
- 13th October – fell at Southwell
- 12th September – pulled up at Perth
Lining up for the 2m6f hurdle at Kelso he was up against eight other horses, with Mister Tuftie a 2/1 favourite. That horse had to settle for fourth place, as somehow Equinoctial made a mockery of the odds to see off Mister Moody by an impressive three and a half lengths. The French 11/2 shot trailed in second place as Equinoctial used the softer-than-expected ground to his advantage.
He was ridden by an unheralded apprentice and A Keywood took full advantage of his extra seven pounds to land a record-odds win that is still in the history books some 30 years on (the recent 300/1 win was in Ireland).
Biggest Odds in Biggest Races
All of the huge odds winners we’ve talked about so far have been in relatively low key races. But have there ever been winners at similar odds in any really big contests? Well, as it happens, yes there have. Here we take a look at the longest odds horses to cross the line first in some of the most prestigious races UK horse racing has to offer.
Grand National: Five 100/1 Winners
Let’s start with a contest that may not be the most prestigious or high class race around but is undoubtedly the most famous: the Grand National. Many view the National at Aintree as a real lottery and, rather fittingly, a horse called Lottery won the first official Grand National way back in 1839. That said, whilst he may have been called Lottery, he was the 5/1 favourite.
Unsurprisingly winning favourites have been relatively few and far between in the big Aintree showpiece. We say unsurprisingly because the Grand National is a marathon at well over four miles and is highly unpredictable due to the 30 incredibly challenging faces and the whopping field of 40 (it has been capped at that for many years but in 1929 a staggering 66 runners went to post!).
This means that winners at double-digit odds are commonplace, with Tiger Roll’s victory at 4/1 in 2019 the only time since 2008 (Comply Or Die) that a horse won at a single-figure price. In 2016 Rule The World won at 33/1, whilst Auroras Encore won at twice that price in 2013.
Auroras Encore is far from the longest odds horse to ever cross the line first in the Aintree race though. Whilst double-digit odds victors are the norm, we have actually seen five Grand National winners at triple-digit odds! All won at a whopping 100/1, the biggest odds of any National winner in the long history of the race.
- Tipperary Tim – 1928
- Gregalach – 1929
- Caughoo – 1947
- Foinavon – 1967 – read the full story of Foinavon’s incredible victory here
- Mon Mome – 2009
Cheltenham Gold Cup: 100/1
If the National is for the casual punters, the Cheltenham Gold Cup is the classier big brother; less famous among the general public but far more highly prized within the sport. The flagship event of National Hunt’s biggest meeting, the Gold Cup sees the very best jumps horses in the world slug it out and with so much class on show winners at crazy odds are far less common.
That said, we had a 12/1 winner (Al Boum Photo) in 2019 and Lord Windemere won at 20/1 in 2014. Looking back further we see a number of winning favourites over the years (indeed Al Boum Photo defended his title in 2020 as the favourite), with a number even going in at odds-on, such as the legendary Best Mate when he sealed his hat-trick in 2004. For reference, one of the greatest horses ever, Arkle, was a 1/10 shot when he claimed his third successive victory in 1966.
But despite these classy horses delivering the goods when huge favourites, even the Gold Cup is not immune to a real shock. The biggest of them all came in 1990, when the unheralded Norton’s Coin, owned and trained by a dairy farmer and with nothing in his breeding, won. The horse would only win once more but his victory at 100/1 remains the record biggest odds for a winner in this race. Everyone’s favourite grey and the pre-race favourite, odds-on at 10/11, Desert Orchid, could only manage third place.
Biggest Odds Winners in the Classics
Jumps racing tends to be more unpredictable than action on the flat, for obvious reasons. None the less, even the most prestigious Flat contests in British racing have seen some serious shocks over the years, with winners at huge odds. Here are the longest odds winners for each of the five British Classics.
- 2,000 Guineas – Rockavon at 66/1 in 1961
- 1,000 Guineas – Billesdon Brook at 66/1 in 2018
- Epsom Oaks – Vespa (1833), Jet Ski Lady (1991) and Qualify (2015), all at 50/1
- Epsom Derby – Jeddah (1898), Signorinetta (1908), Aboyeur (1913) all at 100/1
- St Leger Stakes – Theodore at 200/1 in 1822
Theordore’s victory around 200 years ago is by some distance the longest odds Classic win. The Yorkshire-trained horse won his second race and finished with a very respectable nine wins from 22 races, including some other relatively big contests.
Of course, racing history from so long ago does not always give us as complete a picture as we might like and quite why he was sent off at 200/1 is unclear. He had won his previous four races and there are some who suggest the huge odds were due to reports he was lame prior to the race. Trainer James Croft had tested Theodore in the week before the race against his other Leger entrants, Violet, Corinthian and a colt whose name is seemingly lost in the annuls.
Theodore performed poorly and was discovered to be suffering with corns but was still sent to post at Doncaster alongside 22 other horses. Reports suggest that somehow, Theodore more or less made all the running, winning relatively easily ahead of stablemates Violet and the colt-whose-name-we-can-only-guess! Even more amazingly, the winning odds of the first three were 200/1, 50/1 and 200/1!
More recently, and with much more certainty and clarity, we can report that Billesdon Brook set a new mark in the 1,000 Guineas in 2018. Indeed, we even have footage of that remarkable race which we can see below.
For most of the race she went unnoticed in midfield but produced a stunning finish in the last few furlongs. It was a perfectly judged ride from Sean Levey, claiming his first and only Classic win, seeing off many much better and more fancied horses. Indeed, of the 15 runners no horse was priced at longer odds, with fellow 66/1 shot Madeline finishing in 13th position.
- 1st – Billesdon Brook at 66/1
- 2nd – Laurens at 7/1
- 3rd – Happily at 11/4 (favourite)
- 4th – Wild Illusion at 11/2
The chestnut filly, whose grandsire was Danehill, didn’t win again that season but was once again upsetting the odds in her following campaign. She landed three races as a four year old, including the Group 1 Sun Chariot Stakes when an unfancied 16/1 shot.