The Grand National is the world’s most famous steeplechase and is widely considered to be the most-watched horse racing tournament on the planet. Held in the second week of April at the Aintree racetrack near Liverpool, UK, this horse racing marathon sees up to 40 horses jump 30 fences over a distance of four and a half miles before negotiating the Elbow, the UK’s longest race run-in, at 494 yards.
The National is also an online sports betting favorite. The reason is that the long distance, grueling conditions and large field make outcomes more unpredictable than other races. This makes for big upsets from time to time, with favorites dropping out of the field and outsiders winning at big odds. This randomness means even people who don’t know how to bet on horse racing have a chance at winning! As this year’s event approaches, we’ve put together some of the most surprising wins at the Grand National to date. Read and enjoy!
The longest odds – Mon Mome
It’s a standing joke among fans of horse racing betting that anyone who put money on Mon Mome to win the National in 2009 is still talking about it. That’s because the 100-1 long shot caused the biggest upset in over 40 years. Against all expectations, the French-trained nine-year-old dominated the field all the way to cross the finish 12 lengths ahead of the previous year’s winner, Comply or Die (14-1), and the favorite, My Will (8-1), with former Hennessy Gold Cup winner State Of Play (14-1) finishing fourth.
Mon Mome was the first 100-1 outsider to win the National since Foinavon back in 1967. Trainer Venetia Williams became only the second woman to coach a National winner.
Williams said at the time, “It was just unbelievable, the owner was watching the wrong horse for the first part of the race and she thought it was out the back.”
The closest finish – Neptune Collonges
The closest finish in the history of the Grand National took place in 2012. The winning distance: A nostril. This feat was achieved by Neptune Collonges, a horse who’d always been outshone by his champion stablemates Kauto Star and Denman. The gray, ridden by Daryl Jacob, and Sunnyhillboy (16-1) both came to the fore and were neck and neck at the Elbow. Then Neptune Collonges dug deep and pipped his rival at the post, making him the first gray to win since Nicolas Silver in 1961 and giving trainer Paul Nicholls his first National triumph. Owner John Hales immediately announced that the horse racing champ would retire.
An emotional Jacob said: “You can’t beat this. I was on a tough horse and I said to Paul that one day I would ride you a National winner. That was two years ago and now I’ve done it.”
The unluckiest defeat – Devon Loch slips up
It was 1956, and everything pointed to a victory for Devon Loch. It was a patriotic occasion because the horse’s owner was the Queen Mother, one of the greatest supporters of steeplechase horse racing in the UK.
Devon Loch took the lead with three jumps to go, cleared the last jump half a length ahead of E.S.B. and powered ahead on the final stretch. The crowd started throwing their hats in the air to celebrate a royal win. Then, five lengths ahead and with 40 yards to go, Devon Loch leaped into the air for no apparent reason right in front of the royal box, landing on his stomach and handing a surprise win to E.S.B.
The crowd fell into a subdued silence, while Devon Loch and ace jockey Dick Francis became known as the unluckiest losers in the history of the Grand National. The Queen Mother never had such a good chance to win the race again, while Francis took to writing crime novels to get over the trauma. (Set in the racing scene, his books became bestsellers – a silver lining of sorts.) As for the Queen Mother, she merely said, “Oh, that’s racing.”
The expression “to do a Devon Loch” has entered the language of sports as a metaphor for a sudden last-minute failure.
The most dramatic win – Red Rum
Thoroughbred steeplechaser Red Rum is on record as being one of the greatest Grand National champions of all time, with an unmatched three victories in 1973, 1974, and 1977. The first was the most dramatic and is generally considered to be one of the greatest Grand Nationals ever.
Legendary Australian steeplechaser Crisp dominated the race from the start and was far ahead of the field with more than half a mile to go. The chasing pack thought that Crisp – a very heavy horse – would get tired and fall back before the finish, so none of them tried to go after him. None, that is, except for Red Rum and rider Brian Fletcher.
Crisp was still 15 lengths ahead when Red Rum cleared the last fence, but fatigue was wearing the leader down at last. Suddenly Red Rum was gaining with every stride. He passed his rival with less than 20 yards to go and set a race record of nine minutes and two seconds.
Crisp’s jockey Richard Pitman subsequently recounted: “I still dream about that race, of Crisp running so strongly and jumping so fearlessly, and then the sound of Red Rum’s hooves as he got closer and closer at the end.”
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