The sport of kings is one of the most exciting spectator events, which is enhanced by the prospect of winning a lot of money on the fastest steed. And the payout is made even greater when the gods of fate align in favour of the underdog, propelling the previously unknown horse across the finish line first to the amazement of pundits and forecasters alike. Here are some of the most memorable underdog moments in horseracing history.
Zero to Hero Horses
1. The biggest upset
In 1919 Man ‘O War was the clear favourite and, had the race been 6 metres longer, he would have won, but the very aptly-named Upset, would take the winning title on the day. Upset’s underdog status was made all the more poignant by the fact that Man ‘O War is considered one of the greatest race horses, winning 20 of 21 career races and siring an incredible bloodline which included War Admiral, American Pharoah and even Seabiscuit.
2. Donerail takes the derby
One of the biggest upsets in American horseracing history took place at the 1913 Kentucky Derby where local horse, Donerail defied the 91-1 shot he was given to win. This incredible horse caught up with the favourite on the day, Ten Point, beating him to the finish line by half a length.
3. Dark Star is a dark horse
It wasn’t that Dark Star didn’t have some skill – having won the Derby Trial just days before – but he was up against Native Dancer, aka ‘the Grey Ghost’ who was 11 for 11. Dark Star had 25-1 odds on the day but it just so happened to be his day. This turned out to be the Grey Ghost’s only loss throughout his 22-race career.
4. Conglomerate takes the Durban July
The 2016 edition of the Vodacom Durban July, one of the hottest horseracing events on the South African calendar, saw a horse with 20-1 odds go on to take the main race. Ridden by veteran jockey, Pierre Strydom, The Conglomerate took the lead with 300 metres to go and incredibly won the R4.25 million prize.
Read more: A History of Betting at the Durban July
5. Arcangues beats the odds
Attracting some of the world’s best racehorses globally, the Breeder’s Cup Classic can bring in some big wins and even bigger losses because of its difficulty to forecast. With previous experience only on grass, Arcangues was given 133-1 odds for the 1933 race. In addition, the thoroughbred was being ridden by a last-minute, replacement jockey who couldn’t even pronounce ‘Arangues’. Not a great start. But a fantastic finish. The French history-maker overtook the favourite, Bertrando, in the final furlong and won some really lucky punters a lot of money.
6. Prince of horses
In 2015, Michelle Payne became the first female jockey to win Australia’s Melbourne Cup in the race’s 154-year history. Making this win even more notable is the fact that Payne won the race on a complete outsider – Prince of Penzance – which came in at 100-1 odds in the 24-horse field. Payne and the Prince took the lead in the final 100 metres, beating some top-level international horses. One insightful bettor walked away with more than R2.2 million after this incredible race.
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