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Monday, 10 December, 2018

From a 100-1 Gold Cup winner to Douvan's defeat - the festival's biggest shocks

Ten giant surprises that linger in the memory

Cue Card and Joe Tizzard storm up the Cheltenham hill in the 2010 Champion Bumper
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Cue Card - Weatherby's Champion Bumper (2010)

There have been bigger priced winners at the festival than Cue Card, who obliged in the 2010 Champion Bumper at 40-1, but none of them has gone on to prove the bookmakers made such an epic misjudgement of ability. Colin Tizzard's nine-time Grade 1 winner has amassed a sensational festival record, including a win in the 2013 Ryanair, and he was eight lengths clear of Al Ferof that day – with another eight lengths back to the rest.

Arctic Kinsman - Citroen Supreme Novices' Hurdle (1994)

The 1994 festival began with a mammoth shock when Nigel Twiston-Davies and Carl Llewellyn combined with a 50-1 outsider in the first race. Arctic Kinsman went to the front four out and quickened clear on the run to the last to put eight lengths into Pridwell – the Martin Pipe-trained horse who beat Istabraq by a head in an epic running of the 1998 Aintree Hurdle. 

Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle in the early 00s

It has been a while since a horse won the Pertemps at a massive price – Holywell at 25-1 is the biggest priced winner in the last ten years – but in the early 00s it was de rigueur. In 2004 Jonjo O'Neill and Timmy Murphy teamed up with 50-1 shot Creon, while in 2006 Michael O'Brien and Tom Ryan repeated the trick at the same price with Kadoun. Oulart may have been 10-1 when winning the year in between, but he led home horses priced 66-1, 50-1 and 66-1.

Joes Edge - William Hill Trophy Handicap Chase (2007)

Joes Edge earns inclusion not just for obliging at 50-1, but also for the manner in which he did it. Ferdy Murphy's ten-year-old was given a stalking ride by Davy Russell, but after the last he still had roughly five lengths to make up. He did so, collaring 7-1 co-favourites Juveigneur and Distant Thunder right on the line to win by a short head and a short head in one of the closest finishes in festival history.

Kirriemuir - Champion Hurdle (1965)

The Fulke Walwyn-trained Kirriemuir's Champion Hurdle victory was, at the time, the biggest shock in festival history. His 50-1 starting price was the biggest ever at the meeting and it came in the race the likes of National Spirit, Hatton's Grace and Sir Ken had elevated to iconic status. Toby Balding's Beech Road joined him in 1989 as a 50-1 winner of the two-mile hurdling crown, but for its shock value at the time it is Kirriemuir who earns a spot on our list.

Douvan's defeat - Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (2017)

Special Tiara (right) pips Fox Norton in the 2017 Champion Chase

Douvan's defeat in last year's Champion Chase was one of the biggest shocks in festival history. Annie Power's bookmaker-saving final-flight fall at the 2015 festival when sent off at 1-2 was one thing, but the idea of Douvan, who went off at 2-9, meeting with defeat seemed simply out of the question. He was never jumping or travelling and has not been seen since trailing in seventh behind Special Tiara.

The Mildmay of Flete/Racing Post Plate/Byrne Group Plate

In its current guise as the Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase this has developed into something of a Gold Cup trial, with last year's winner Road To Respect 10-1 for the big one this time, but it has also produced big-priced winners with two obliging at 66-1. In the 1990 running of the Mildmay of Flete, Paul James and 7lb claimer Eamon Tierney teamed up with New Halen, in 2008 Sue Smith's gallant old Mister McGoldrick obliged at the same price and in 2013 the Venetia Williams-trained Carrickboy returned a 50-1 winner of the Byrne Group Plate.

Observer Corps - Cathcart Challenge Cup Chase (1989)

Observer Corps' 66-1 victory in the 1989 Cathcart was a shock for several reasons. First he was 66-1, as the John Edwards-trained eight-year-old came into the race not having run for 11 months, having not got within 12 lengths of the winner on any of his four starts before that layoff and was seemingly outclassed in what was a level-weights Listed race with penalties. That he took it up at the eighth and simply galloped away from a field containing future Gold Cup winner Norton's Coin (keep reading) by eight lengths made it one of the biggest upsets in festival history.

The Triumph Hurdle in the 80s

The Triumph Hurdle became part of the festival in 1968, a year after Persian War won the race when it was part of the April meeting, and for a while it ran true to form. Then the 1980s came along. 1988 winner Kribensis, who went on to win the Champion Hurdle in 1990, was something of a black sheep as the race threw up not one, or two, but three 66-1 winners that decade. Baron Blakeney got the ball rolling in 1981 and Shiny Copper repeated the feat a year later, while Ikdam, in 1989, ended the decade much as it started.

Norton's Coin - Tote Cheltenham Gold Cup (1990)

Norton's Coin (left) was a shock winner of the Gold Cup in 1990

The biggest shock came in the 1990 Gold Cup courtesy of Norton's Coin. It was not just that, at 100-1, he remains the biggest priced winner in festival history, or the fact he was owned and trained by Sirrell Griffiths, a Welsh dairy farmer with just three horses. But he also came up the hill best to see off the people's horse, odds-on favourite and reigning Gold Cup hero Desert Orchid, and Jenny Pitman's Toby Tobias. "Shock of the century," read the headline of Racing Post's front page the following morning.

The 1994 Cheltenham Festival began with a mammoth shock as Nigel Twiston-Davies and Carl Llewellyn combined with 50-1 outsider in the very first race
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