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Thrills At Cheltenham: The Top Five Shocks That We’ll Never Forget

  • Written by Martina Maritato
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Incredible shocks are almost part of the Cheltenham Festival’s DNA and if you’re looking to place your bets this March, it’s well worth keeping that in mind. Beating the bookies is always a punters dream and those lucky few have won some huge prize pots. But what have been the biggest shocks in the Festival’s history? As we build up to the highlight of the horse racing calendar, we decided to run down some of the most memorable surprises in the Cheltenham Festival’s history…

Cheltenham is the Home of Jump Racing and hosts a number of top quality race meetings each year, including the world famous National Hunt "Festival" in March every year.

Located at Prestbury Park in Gloucestershire, Cheltenham racecourse is the home of National Hunt racing. It consists of two tracks - the Old Course and the New Course. The New Course has an extremely tricky downhill fence and also a much longer run in than the Old Course.

No matter what the sport, we all love an underdog. It’s the moments when someone comes out of nowhere that makes sport great. And over the years Cheltenham has seen plenty of those.

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1990 welcomed the biggest upset in the Cheltenham Gold Cup’s history, and boy did it happen in style.

The race was all set to be Desert Orchid’s, a race to assert the esteemed runner’s status. And at 10/11, the bookmakers weren’t looking beyond him.

However, storming through the field with a six minute 30 second run, Norton’s Coin sent shockwaves across the racing world becoming the Gold Cup’s first ever 100/1 shot winner.

Everything about that run from Norton’s Coin shouldn’t have happened. His trainer, Sirrell Griffiths, was a farmer from Wales who trained in his spare time and the horse was more in in the running for last place than first.

The stars aligned though and Norton’s Coin, Sirrell Griffiths and Graham McCourt’s names are well and truly in the history books.


Richard Johnson is somewhat of a mainstay in Cheltenham Festival racing, with the bookmakers always favouring the legendary jockey’s runners.

He won the Gold Cup last year on Native River, his second winner, but has been breaking records ever since his first Festival win.

Back in 1999, he rode Anzum in the Stayers Hurdle and achieved a win with the biggest outsider in the race’s history.

At 40/1, Anzum looked well at of the running and that continued as the race got underway. With just three hurdles to go, he was out in eighth, but picked up the pace, passing Le Coudray and beating Lady Rebecca by just a nose.

It set the tone for what would be, and still is, a very lucrative festival for the English jockey.

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The 2014 Gold Cup was meant to belong to Bob’s Worth, a standout favourite at 6/4 and the year’s previous winner. The field was strong and Lord Windermere was meant to sit comfortably in the middle of the pack at 33/1.

The race didn’t quite work out that way though. In fact, for much of the race Davy Russell’s Windermere was out in last place, but he stayed within touching distance of the rest of the field and went on a staggering burst to force his way into a three-way finish with On His Own and The Giant Bolster, both significantly favoured ahead of 2013 RSA Chase winner.

The race finished in dramatic fashion, requiring a steward’s enquiry, uncovering Lord Windermere to have won by a short head. The steward’s did find that second place On His Own had been impeded, but it wasn’t enough to take victory away from the outsider.


Shocks don’t just happen in the form of underdogs and in 1980 Tied Cottage crossed the line in true style to win the Gold Cup.

However, the drama had only just begun as Tied Cottage was found to have an illegal substance in his bloodstream and was disqualified from the race.

It was during the horse’s pomp, and was a controversial decision that was later ruled completely accidental. In fact, later the amount of the substance found actually fell into the legal limit, meaning Tied Cottage was robbed of his title.

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2012 was a landmark year for Nicky Henderson, who broke all manner of records including the most successful trainer in Cheltenham history.

The horse that gave Henderson that honour was Une Artiste, a rank outsider in the Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.

Priced at 40/1, the horse came from behind after Kazlian stole a march. Kazlian ran out of steam going up the hill and Une Artiste came up strong, eventually beating Edeymi by well over a length.


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