The unpredictable nature of horse racing is one of the things that makes it such a riveting sport. The hurdles, horse/jockey relationship, sharp turns and weather conditions are all elements which add extra jeopardy to the sport and contribute to the high number of shock results and underdog wins.
2020 was a year with even more shocks than usual, due to many horses and jockeys having to pull out of races due to travel and health restrictions. One of the biggest surprise results of 2020 occurred at the Epsom Derby in July, where the first three places paid out at 56,000/1. The winner that day was Serpentine who was heavily unfancied at 25/1, followed by Khalifa at 50/1 and Amhran Na Bhfiann. While 2021 featured somewhat fewer restrictions, cancellations and postponements, there were still plenty of big shocks throughout the year.
Torquator Tasso – Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Longchamp)
4-year-old German thoroughbred Torquator Tasso was the shock winner of October’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, becoming only the third German trained horse to win the race, following in the footsteps of Danedream in 2011 and Star Appeal in 1975. This victory was as much a shock to fans at Longchamp as it was to viewers across Europe. Before the race, experts like Andy Holding, who provides horse racing tips for Oddschecker, were reporting that Tasso was extremely unfancied at 80/1. Even Marcel Weiss, Tasso’s rookie trainer said, “we would have been happy if he had finished third, fourth, fifth or sixth”, which shows how much the result surprised the team. This was Torquator Tasso’s third win of the season, but by far the most impressive, with the previous two coming in much smaller races Hansa-Preis and Grosser Preis von Baden in his native Germany.
Reshoun – Ascot Stakes
Running as a 66/1 underdog from a field of 19, Reshoun produced one of the performances of the season in winning the 2021 Ascot Stakes on day one of the Royal Ascot meeting. As with many underdog winners, Reshoun and his trainer were able to keep up with the leading pack, before making a dash for the front in the final furlong. The win was made even more shocking and impressive by the fact that legendary jockey Frankie Dettori was overtaken after making a final dash for the finish line on his horse Golden Rules. Reshoun’s jockey William Buick does have great pedigree, having won three previous Classics, however, this was his first win since the Epsom Derby in 2018. In Reshoun’s four other races of 2021 he placed 11th, 12th, 7th and 8th, proving just how surprising the Ascot Stakes result was.
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Jeff Kidder – Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Cheltenham)
In the biggest Cheltenham Festival shock in the last 30 years, Irish Bay Gelding Jeff Kidder won the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at 80/1, beating 9/2 favourite Saint Sam. Even after a few jumping mistakes during the race, Kidder and jockey Sean Flanagan finished strong to claim Flanagan’s first ever Cheltenham victory. In the pre-race predictions, only two horses were less fancied than Kidder making it one of the shocks of the century. In the months after Cheltenham the horse and jockey pair went on to win further races at Fairyhouse and Punchestown, as well as two consecutive third places at the end of the year, ensuring his pre-race odds are much shorter these days.
Freewheelin Dylan – Irish Grand National
The biggest shock on this list in terms of odds is Freewheelin Dylan, the 150/1 winner of the 2021 Irish Grand National. Ridden by Ricky Doyle, this was Dylan’s first appearance since finishing last out of a field of eight at Punchestown last year. After taking the lead at the first jump, the nine-year old led to race until the end. Speaking after the race, Doyle said “I could not believe it – I thought everything was too good to be true! His jumping is just out of this world, but how well he travelled and the rhythm he was in (was unbelievable).”, which shows how much of a shock the win was.