Few things feel better than getting a
winner at three-figure odds and they're more common than you might
Tom Segal, who
has tipped many an unlikely winner as Pricewise in the Racing Post, once argued
that there are basically two types of gamblers, and he used cricketers to make
his point. Some are playing it safe, backing the favourites, like Mike Atherton
steadily racking up singles while taking no chances. Others, compared by Segal
to Ian Botham, were happiest when trying to smash one on to the pavilion roof,
going for the big return despite the obvious possibility that such risk-taking
could end very badly.
I tend to take the view that a winner is gratifying
at any price. The best way to approach a race is without any knowledge of the
odds; once you've formed a view, you then compare that with the betting market.
If the favourite is even money when you expected 4-6, you have to back it and
there will be tremendous satisfaction if you're proved right.
nothing like being right when everyone else is wrong. That's why I get a little
wistful whenever I see that a horse has won at 100-1 in a race I didn't study.
It feels like a missed opportunity.
This line of thought was prompted
by the first race at Cheltenham on Saturday, when Baccalaureate started at
those odds and cantered round to win comfortably. He never looked like a 100-1
shot at any stage and, when the starting price was announced, my first thought
was that punters must have misread his form. If he won like that, he must have
given some previous indication of ability.
As it turns out, he really
hadn't. He won a couple of two-year-old races in the French provinces but he'd
been stuffed in two starts over hurdles since crossing the Channel and he was
stepping up to Grade Two level. If I'd been a bookmaker, I'd have been pleased
to lay him at any odds.
The same could not be said, however, of all
rank outsiders that managed to scramble home in front. What follows is my
countdown of the five most backable 100-1 winners over the past decade. As
ever, I'm writing with the benefit of hindsight please bear in mind that
I am in no way claiming to have backed any of these. The idea is to spot what
clues there were, so that maybe we won't miss them when another such
opportunity comes around. After all, winners at three-figure odds are not that
rare. There have been 75, according to my software, in Britain over the past
decade, including two at 200-1 and another two at 150-1.
If you find a
horse at such odds that you half fancy, have a look at the prices on the Tote
and on Betfair, where outsiders can often pay much better than with
conventional bookmakers. Baccaulaureate was 400-1 on Betfair just before the
race started, though that probably still wouldn't have tempted me.
5) Boot N Toot: Ideal conditions for the first time since her last
win This mare was once described in the Racing Post as "not the easiest
to predict". She won five times from 45 starts but, amazingly, you'd have made
a level-stakes profit by following her blindly, even if you missed the biggest
day of all, because she also won at 20-1, 12-1, 10-1 and 7-1.
race that got her on this list was the Brighton Challenge Cup, a mile handicap
run in August 2005. Trained by Charles Cyzer, she was the 100-1 outsider of 18
but was prominent throughout before holding off Topkat by a short-head.
Boot N Toot was by no means the sort of horse that punters should have put
a line through. She had won twice during the previous 12 months, including a
handicap that same season in which she had raced off a 9lb higher mark. She was
plainly well handicapped if she could run to her best.
latest win, Boot N Toot had been well beaten five times, but two of those
defeats had come in Listed races and a third in a non-handicap of reasonable
quality won by Cesare. In the two handicaps she had contested, she had run well
until fading, once on soft ground and once over an inadequate mile. The
Brighton race was over a more suitable mile and a half on a decent surface.
Anyone looking closely at her form might have understood that she had her ideal
conditions for the first time since her last success.
Livius: Not all the clues are in the form book When she turned up for
Newbury's Super Sprint in July 2005, Lady Livius had raced twice, finishing
ninth and then eighth in fairly ordinary maidens. This race was worth
£78,000 to the winner and had attracted some exciting prospects, so why
would you fancy her to leave her previous form behind?
The main point
of interest was that she was trained by Richard Hannon, who specialises in
zippy two-year-olds and who has farmed the Super Sprint. At this point, he had
won it five times in the previous 13 years.
Against that, Lady Livius
was the least fancied of his five runners in 2005. But she was arguably the
best drawn of the five, in stall one against the far rail. In big-field races
on straight courses, it is generally thought an advantage to be drawn near a
rail, especially in a race full of inexperienced runners. The thinking in 2005
was that high numbers were probably favoured at Newbury but the runners from
stall one had finished first and third in the Super Sprint over the previous
There was also some promise on pedigree. Lady Livius was a
half-sister to Galeota, who had won a Group Two for the yard as a juvenile the
year before. Her dam's other two foals had also won.
If you backed
her, you did so in the hope that she had not shown her potential in her first
two starts, but that wouldn't be so uncommon. At 100-1, the risk was certainly
built into the price and the Tote paid 155-1.
3) Bubble Boy: Having
no form is not the same as having no ability This chaser is now 11 and
was seen as recently as last month, when pulled up at Fakenham. But it is the
other end of his career that we're interested in, when he won on his chasing
debut in January 2005 (a good year for shocks) at 100-1.
His only form
consisted of a couple of outings in bumpers, races on the flat for horses that
will become jumpers in time. He had run respectably in one and then been well
beaten next time, two months before the race in question.
could imagine yourself backing him depends on how strong you think a horse's
credentials should be before you wade in. Some shrewd people (Nick Mordin is
one) stick to the maxim that you should never back a horse to do what it hasn't
That's too limiting for me. Once a horse has proved his
ability, his odds will remain short until he's proved that he's lost it.
Sometimes, it is worth trying to intuit from available evidence whether a horse
will be able to cope with a particular task.
It was interesting that
Bubble Boy's trainer, Brendan Powell, had chosen to pitch him straight into
chasing company rather than taking the orthodox route of a season over hurdles.
But Bubble Boy's size suggested to anyone who had seen him that his future was
over the bigger obstacles. In that light, two modest runs in bumpers are easy
to forgive. Future chasers are often well beaten in such races, lacking the
pace to get involved. In any case, their connections are not usually desperate
to win bumpers when they know there are better opportunities to come.
When Bubble Boy showed up at Fontwell for a seven-runner beginners'
chase, he should not have been seen as a horse who had already proved to be
slow. He was an intriguing, unexposed contender who, unlike many of his rivals,
had not already proved disappointing. It's hard to know why he was so much less
fancied than his 20-1 stablemate, Muttley Maguire, who had been well beaten on
two previous starts over fences.
Distant Thunder was the good horse in
the race, having been second to L'Ami in a Grade Two the previous month, so it
was understandable that he would be an 8-13 shot but he had found a way to lose
all four starts over fences and was hardly invincible.
No one could
know that Bubble Boy would end up as the winner of seven races over fences. But
the potential was there in a weak race and, if you're not prepared to take a
flyer on potential now and then, you won't back many winners at big prices.
2) Spanish Don: You can always forgive one bad run "I think
it was my popularity that made him that price," said David Elsworth after
Spanish Don won the 2004 Cambridgeshire at 100-1. Actually, the trainer had
done his bit to alert punters to the horse's chance, having named the Newmarket
race as his target after Spanish Don won at Kempton in June, four months
The horse won again at Kempton in July and was only 7lb higher
for the big day, but in the interim he had suffered a couple of defeats that
partially explain why the market ignored him. In particular, he was
disappointing when ninth of 18 at Newbury after the trainer had said he should
Elsworth explained after the Cambridgeshire that the going,
officially good to soft but actually "tacky", had not suited at Newbury.
Punters could hardly be expected to know that he would do so much better on
good ground, but his case serves to show why it may be worth forgiving any
horse one bad run, particularly when he is being prepared for a bigger target.
Spanish Don had won four of his previous 10. He was manifestly not
badly handicapped and he had proved his stamina, having been a strong-finishing
winner over 10 furlongs. In any race of 32 runners, some will start at huge
odds, but they should not have included him.
1) Mon Mome: Keep an
open mind about a horse's preferred going Woudn't you like to have
backed the first 100-1 Grand National winner since Foinavon? Of course you
would. And maybe you should have done. After all, he had started favourite for
the Welsh National four months before. He had also beaten Star De Mohaison in a
valuable handicap at Cheltenham, so there was no doubting that he had the guts
and the ability for a National. At Aintree, he was only 8lb higher in the
weights than he had been at Cheltenham.
But he had flopped four times
since then, starting at Chepstow, all on the kind of soft or heavy going that
was thought to suit him. Discouragingly, he was beaten by more than 40 lengths
on each of his two runs before the National.
Then again, what if he
wasn't best suited by really soft ground? Yes, he'd won on it three times early
in his career as a novice, but he'd been racing against markedly inferior
horses. He may have won those races on any ground.
If you took the view
that Mon Mome might have had enough of racing through hock-deep mud, that he
might actually be better suited by going that was no worse than good to soft,
then he was suddenly a live runner again. For the first time since his
Cheltenham win, conditions were going to suit him.
Even those that
backed him must have had a hard time believing the evidence of their eyes as he
sprinted clear of Comply Or Die on the run-in. There was nothing in his record
to suggest he'd win like that. He'd been a poor 10th in the 2008 National,
albeit after an abbreviated season. But he was a classy horse with good form in
the current season. He should not have been 100-1, still less the 180-1 that
was traded on Betfair the night before, and we ought to have known it.