Main Menu
Ed's Choice
No.1 2 3 4
No.5 6 7 8
No.9 10
  | Home   | Index   | Info   | This Week   | Poker   | News   | Email
5/2/2010 No.11
rendspotting Comment
Chris Cook
Friday 5 Feb 2010
  Few things feel better than getting a winner at three-figure odds and they're more common than you might think

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.

There's 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.

But the 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.

Since her 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.

4) Lady 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 two years.

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.

Whether you 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 done before.

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 before.

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 win.

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.
Fill out your e-mail address
to receive our newsletter!
E-mail address:  
First Name:  
Last Name: