Part of the reason that the Grand National is such a captivating contest is how unpredictable it is. With a huge pack of horses competing on an extremely challenging course over such a long distance, races frequently do not go according to plan. Being the shortest priced option for this incredibly competitive affair tends to count for very little as a result. In the 60 renewals of the race between 1961 and 2021, the favourite or joint-favourite only triumphed on eight occasions.
With winners coming from all over the betting during this time, punters know that it is possible to score quite the profit on the Grand National. The ability to turn a small stake into something much more is what encourages even the most casual of horse racing fans to part with their cash each year. There have been plenty of instances, as you will soon discover, of bettors making a small fortune too thanks to their ability to successfully predict an upset.
Here we will take a look at the Grand National champions that have provided the biggest pay outs while providing a little background of their unexpected triumphs.
Rubio (66/1) – 1908
Rubio had been on quite the journey before his 10-length Grand National victory in 1908. Bred in California, he moved to the UK as a yearling following a 15 guineas sale. At five years old his racing career looked almost over as he has effectively just broken down. Not even close to being at a competitive level, his owner sent him to pull a trolley bus in Towcester to regain some leg strength.
The training program proved effective as two years later Rubio was fit enough to get back training. Skip forward a little later and the American-born horse beat stablemate Mattie McGregor to first place. He did actually return to Aintree to defend his crowd too in 1909 but was quickly retired after suffering a fall.
Tipperary Tim (1928) – 100/1
Some of the big Grand National surprises have seen outsiders simply perform out of their skin. In other instances, such as this, they have enjoyed a gigantic slice of good fortune. In this very foggy and muddy renewal of the Grand National, a pile-up at the Canal Turn wiped out the majority of the field, leaving only seven runners left standing. As the race progressed other horses dropped out, eventually leaving just Tipperary Tim and Billy Barton in contention.
The pair were neck and neck heading into the final fence but the 33/1 shot Billy Barton made a hash of the last jump, catching his forelegs on the obstacle. Flipping the jockey off the saddle in the progress, Tipperary Tim was able to plod home to victory. Billy Barton’s jockey managed to remount to claim second place but he was no doubt furious to have lost out to a horse regarded as being pretty darn slow. There is a strong case to be made that Tipperary Tim is one of the worst hoses ever to win the Grand National especially as he did not win a single other race of note.
Gregalach (1929) – 100/1
The saying goes that you wait ages for a bus and then two come along at once. Well, in the case of the Grand National it waited 90 years for its first 100/1 winner, only for another to follow the very next year. Still reeling from the previous year’s shock, punters at Aintree were struck by yet another massive surprise as the 100/1 Gregalach won by a full six lengths.
It was arguably the toughest ever Grand National to win too as it featured 66 runners, the largest field in the history of the race. Only nine of the 66 managed to finish the course, three of them being priced at a massive 200/1!
Forbra (1932) – 50/1
Forbra was not an unknown entity coming into the 1932 Grand National as he had beaten Golden Miller at Newbury the previous year. It was not a ‘proper’ victory mind you as Golden Miller, who initially finished first, was later disqualified for carrying the wrong weight. The big race at Aintree was never really the plan for Forbra put an impressive win at Taunton in the build-up convinced his connections to switch course. Under the watchful eye of Edward, Prince of Wales at Aintree, the switch paid off massively as a seven year old dark horse topped a field of 36 runners.
Caughoo (1947) – 100/1
The third of our five 100/1 winners came shortly after the end of World War II. It was a bumper renewal of the Grand National with 57 horses competing, the largest field since the packed 1929 race mentioned previously. With so many horses in the running, a long-odds winner is a little less surprising than it would be normally especially as 26 horses, so almost half the field, that set off at 100/1 odds.
Nevertheless, you would still normally fancy options much further down the betting and there were some strong contenders such as the 8/1 favourite Prince Regent, winner of the 1946 Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Champion Stakes. Despite all the competition Caughoo faced though, he actually made rather light work of the marathon race, winning by 20 lengths. As with the previous two 100/1 champions, the going at Aintree was heavy which no doubt had a big say on how the race panned out.
Sheila’s Cottage (1948) – 50/1
The only mare to feature on our list of long-odds Grand National winners is also one of just two mares to have won this contest since 1903. The surprise win for the females came courtesy of the nine year old Shelia’s Cottage, trained by Neville Crump and ridden by Arthur Thompson. It was a fairly uncomfortable win by Grand National standards, with First Of The Dandies second finishing just a length off the pace. This would not be the only time the Crump-Thompson combination struck gold as they ended up winning the National again just four years later.
Russian Hero (1949) – 66/1
Yet another post-war surprise here as Russian Hero strolled home on fairly firm going to claim the 1949 Grand National. The fast pace of the race, on an account of the ground, led to a lot of fallers in this renewal. Out of the 43 horses that ran, 26 fell and another four were brought down. Throw in one refusal and the fact that Caughoo, a former winner of this exact race, ran out the course, and this left just 11 finishers. From these, Russian Hero was comfortably the fastest and his eight-length win pocketed his connections £13,000.
Ayala (1963) – 66/1
There were two joint-owners left celebrating Ayala’s big win in 1963. One was trainer Keith Piggot, father of the famous jockey Lester Piggott and the other was famous hairdresser Raymond Bessone, also known as Mr Teasy-Weasy. The unusual pairing would have no doubt had their hearts in their mouths as they watched their horse come down the home stretch with 20/1 shot Carrickbeg in hot pursuit. Unlike many other of our long-odds winners, this was a contest that went down to the wire with Ayala only ending up victorious by three quarters of a length.
Anglo (1966) – 50/1
Originally trained by Ryan Price, Anglo later switched to Fred Winter’s yard after Price was banned from training. Winter had been eyeing up the Grand National for some time and still stuck with plan A despite Anglo suffering some poor form earlier on in the season. Several lacklustre performances in the build-up were concerning enough but then first-choice jockey, Eddie Harty, was injured on the day of the race and had to drop out. Stepping in as an emergency replacement was Tim Norman who had yet to fully recover from a car accident the day before. Norman struggled to get Anglo moving early on but a sublime finish saw the eight year old win by a massive 20 lengths.
Foinavon (100/1) – 1967
A gigantic pile-up led to a shock winner in the 1928 Grand National and there were some remarkably similar scenes 39 years later on. The horse that ultimately benefitted from it was Foinavon, a runner very few fancied and that included both his trainer and owner. Neither were in attendance to witness this great victory, which goes to show how much faith they had in their horse. Trainer/jockey John Kempton was down in Worcester riding another one of his horses partly because he was too heavy to ride Foinavon himself. Finding a replacement took time because owner Cyril Watkins had refused to pay any jockey the customary extra fee for a Grand National ride.
With three days to go, the low-pay offer was taken up by John Buckingham who had no Grand National experience. Things we going well enough for Buckingham as the field approached Becher’s Brook for the second time. At this point, 28 horses were left running as well as some jockey-less horses out in front. One of these, Popham Down, veered sharply right in front of the fence, causing a huge pile-up. Rondetto managed to sneak past but he unseated his rider in the process. All other horses refused to jump with the exception being Foinavon who spotted a small gap out wide and cleared the fence cleanly. Many of the remaining horses did end up carrying on, after some encouragement, but by this stage the 100/1 outsider was long gone.
Last Suspect (50/1) – 1985
The role of the jockey in the Grand National should always be appreciated but in 1985, Hywel Davies was worthy of some extra special praise. Prior to the 1985 Grand National, a stubborn Last Suspect pulled himself up during a race at Warwick. Frustrated with their horse, trainer Tim Forster and owner the Duchess of Westminster wanted to abandon their plans of running Last Suspect in the National. They never did though, purely because Davies was so convinced that a marathon run at Aintree would suit him. The Welsh jockey obviously knew what he was talking about as he managed to ride the ageing 11 year old to an unexpected triumph.
Mon Mome (100/1) – 2009
The final 100/1 winner to feature in our list is the 2009 champion Mon Mome. As you can probably guess by the name, this was a French-bred horse, making him the first winner to originate from the other side of the Channel in over a century. To some extent, it was a surprise to see him trading as long as 100/1 for showpiece event because just over three months prior he had been the 9/2 favourite for the Welsh Grand National.
A credible, albeit somewhat disappointing eighth place at Chepstow was later followed by two extremely comfortable defeats at Haydock and Uttoxeter. Seemingly completely out of form, the price for the then nine year old shot up considerably. It is hard to say what helped Mon Mome suddenly recapture some form but perhaps it was partly thanks to a change in jockey. For the race Liam Treadwell was chosen, the same rider who guided Mon Mome to second place in the 2006 Welsh Grand National.
After the race, BBC presenter, Claire Balding, ended up in hot water for suggesting Treadwell could use the prize money to fix his teeth. No money was required in the end though as some sympathetic dentist offered to do the work for free having seen the exchange on TV.
Auroras Encore (66/1) – 2013
In 2013, Channel 4 secured the rights to broadcast the Grand National for the very first time and what a renewal they started off with. Prior to the race, many of the National fences had been modified to make them significantly safer. Instead of a solid wood frame underneath the spruce, 12 fences were replaced with a more forgiving plastic birch. The easier fences meant that for the first time ever, the entire field made it to the eighth jump (Canal Turn) without incident.
Numbers did begin to decline as the race progressed though as many jockeys pulled up or were unseated following poor landings. After the 25th fence, from the 21 left standing, Oscar Time and Teaforthree led the way with Auroras Encore in third. Waiting patiently, Ryan Mania onboard Auroras Encore timed his attack well, moving into a slender lead following the final fence. With his 11 year old still having plenty in the tank, the pair moved comfortably clear of the chasing runners and were nine lengths clear by the finishing post.