Cheltenham Festival is one of the most prestigious events in the racing calendar. The greats of the sport all descend on Cheltenham for the week-long occasion where the competitors duel it out for the leading prizes in the National Hunt.
The elite horses are usually the ones to take the honours at the events, although there have been notable surprises at the Festival. We’ll now break down some of the most surprising results in the history of Cheltenham Festival.
No horse is more fondly remembered for his performance at the Gold Cup than Norton’s Coin. He was a 100/1 bet for the marquee event of Cheltenham Festival, facing off a talented field that included the legendary Desert Orchid. Graham McCourt took to the saddle and he along with his charge delivered the display of a lifetime. In the 12-horse field, Norton’s Coin held at the back of the pack and made a steady pace in the early stages of the race.
However, as time progressed he moved to match the leading group that included Desert Orchid. Sirrell Griffiths’ charge made a surge three fences from the end of the race, speeding past Desert Orchid into second place before battling past Toby Tobias. The horses enjoyed a fierce contest, but Norton’s Coin edged out his rival to take the crown by three quarters of a length. No horse in the history of the Gold Cup or the Festival has produced a bigger shock, etching Norton’s Coin, Griffiths and McCourt into jump racing folklore.
Cue Card has been one of the most dominant horses in the National Hunt over the last six years, although he enjoyed humble beginnings back in 2010. Colin Tizzard’s charge has won the Betfair Chase three times along with the King George VI Chase and Ryanair Chase among his other prestigious titles. However, before all of those, he was a little known bay gelding in his second meet at Cheltenham Festival in 2010 in the Champion Bumper. He was a 40/1 outsider at the race, having competed only once before making his first appearance at Cheltenham Racecourse.
Cue Card had won the opening race of his career by a comfortable margin, although the level of competition in the Champion Bumper was a step up in calibre. Joe Tizzard took to the saddle and the bay gelding responded with another brilliant display, finishing eight lengths ahead of the rest of the field. Although it may not seem a surprise now, the margin of his victory was a shock, while the race favourite Shot From The Hip finished down in 20th out of 24 competitors.
It was not a complete shock that Henry De Bromhead’s charge won the Champion Chase in 2017. However, it was the level of competition that he was facing that should have prevented a win for the bay gelding. Willie Mullins’ Douvan was a machine heading into the contest, having won 13 races on the bounce, including two at Cheltenham Festival in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Arkle Chase.
As a result, he was the overwhelming favourite for the contest at odds of 2/9, while Special Tiara was one of the best of the rest at 11/1. De Bromhead’s charge did have two wins under his belt at the Desert Orchid Chase and another at the Celebration Chase, proving that he was not a novice.
He enjoyed a fine run at Cheltenham with Noel Fehily in the saddle whereas the great Douvan blundered around the racecourse. Special Tiara controlled the race with a fine tempo before he was pushed down the stretch by Fox Norton. He just had enough to edge out Tizzard’s charge on the line, winning the meet by a head, claiming the biggest win of his career. Special Tiara has since passed away at the age of 12, while Douvan has not been the same horse after his failure.
David Pipe’s charge pulled off one of the biggest shocks in Cheltenham Festival history in 2014 at the Arkle Chase when priced at 33/1, surprising Pipe himself with his success. He competed against a talented field, with the French-bred Trifolium and Willie Mullins’ Champagne Fever considered the leading contenders for the crown. Western Warhorse only had one chase victory under his belt before entering the contest, claiming the win at a Novices’ Chase in Doncaster two months before the event.
Tom Scudamore anchored his triumph on that occasion and was in the saddle once again at Cheltenham. He made a bright start to the race and challenged for the early lead. However, the pace got to him three fences out as he dropped down into fifth. Scudamore rallied Western Warhorse for one final surge and the bay gelding responded and challenged Champagne Fever down the straight. Pipe’s horse pulled ahead of his rival, beating him out on the line by a head. It was a fine performance for Western Warhorse and one of the last of his career.
Richard Johnson tasted victory for the first time at Cheltenham Festival on the back of the 40/1 outsider at the Stayers’ Hurdle. Anzum had missed the entire 1997/98 campaign in the National Hunt, having previously struggled with injuries. The bay gelding had talent and finished third in the Triumph Hurdle in 1995 before placing second in the Stayers’ Hurdle in 1997.
After 18 months on the sideline he returned to action at the Long Walk Hurdle at the end of 1998 where he finished well off the pace in seventh. A similar performance occurred at the Cleeve Hurdle, placing in fifth, although he did take a semblance of momentum into Cheltenham with a second-place finish at the Rendlesham Hurdle.
Due to his injuries, he was a rank outsider for the Stayers’ Hurdle as Aidan O’Brien’s Le Coudray was the 2/1 favourite. Anzum made a steady start to the race and grew in confidence around the track. He moved into contention three fences from the end of the race before producing a surge down the stretch. He battled Le Coudray for the win and just edged out his rival by a neck to take the title.
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