7 of the biggest Sporting Shocks of all-time

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The whole reason we tune into watch different sports week on week is to see the best in the world excel at what they do. 

But there is no better viewing in the sport than seeing an underdog triumph over a bigger, wealthier, more world renowned rival, especially if it is done over the course of a Championship or season as opposed to a one off game.

Leicester have achieved the ultimate coup in the 2015/16 Premier League season that will be difficult to ever top, beating 5000/1 odds to lift the trophy.

Here are 7 of the best sporting underdog stories as chosen by me.

Greece (Euro 2004)

Aside from Denmark in 1992, this is the biggest upset in the history of the European Championships. 150/1 outsiders at the start of the tournament, Greece emerged from a group  containing hosts Portugal, favourites Spain and minnows Latvia and from then on there was no looking back.

They went on to defeat France in the quarter-final, the Czech Republic in the semi-final and secure a 1-0 victory over Portugal in the final to cap off what was an amazing achievement in only the country’s 2nd ever appearance at the Finals.

All the more remarkable given the team had no superstars, only 8 players who played outside of the Greek league and a coach, Otto Rehhagel who masterminded another great underdog story in leading Kaiserslautern to the Bundesliga 7 years previously.

 

Phil Taylor (BDO World Championship 1990)

Many of you will know Phil “The Power” Taylor as the most decorated player in the history of professional Darts. What you might not know is that he was a 125/1 unseeded outsider when he won his first of 16 World Championships in 1990.

Entering the tournament having only won the Canadian Open in 1988 and being sponsored by friends and fellow players to travel round to tournaments before this. Taylor only dropped 3 sets in 4 matches en route to the final, where he would play mentor and number 1 seed, Eric Bristow. “The Power” destroyed his fellow Englishman 6-1 to kick-off one of the most dominant runs in the history of any professional sport.

In one of the last unified darts World Championships before what is now known as the PDC split from the BDO, Taylor became the biggest under-dog story of the darting world. A fitting triumph for a place in this list.

 

Goran Ivanisevic (Wimbledon Singles Champion 2001)

Arguably the biggest shock at a Grand Slam in Tennis history, the Croat stunned the world by becoming the first wild card to win the biggest tournament in the game.

Ivanisevic was ranked 125th at the beginning of the event and at odds of 300/1, it was inconceivable that he would be lifting the trophy. But victories over seeds Carlos Moya, Marat Safin, Tim Henman and Pat Rafter in a thrilling 5 set final clinched his only career Grand Slam in what would be his only career singles final at a Grand Slam.

Currently he is the coach of Croat Marian Cilic whom he has led to his only Grand Slam title at the US Open in 2014.

Foinavon (1967 Grand National Winner)

As many people will know, the 40 runner marathon contest at Aintree can turn up some big priced winners, just look at fellow 100-1 winner Mon Mome in 2009.

Foinaven however was the original Cinderella story back in 1967 in one of the most famous renewal’s in history. A 23 horse pile up at the smallest fence on the course (there after named Foinaven in his honour) allowed jockey John Buckingham, who only missed the pile up as they were so far behind, to steer his horse clear of the carnage and go on to win the race at a canter.

The owner, Cyril Watkins had so little faith in the horse, he hadn’t even bothered to go to the track to watch him run. It is one of the most iconic moments in the history of the place and the fact that there’s only been one 100/1 shot win the race since, he takes his place on the list.

Ben Curtis (Open Champion 2003)

Ben Curtis might be the biggest single underdog story in sport if you consider his achievements before and after his major win. Ranked 396th in the World at the time, he has only ever won 5 golf tournaments in his professional career to date.

He entered The Open as a 300/1 shot and carded a final round 69 to come from 2 behind and beat Thomas Bjorn and Vijay Singh by one shot. In doing so he became the first player since Francis Ouimet in 1913 to win his maiden major tournament and he is still the lowest ranked winner of a major since the ranking system began.

Curtis turned professional in 2000 and his highest finish in a major aside from this win was a T-2 in the 2008 PGA Championship. He has currently slipped down to a ranking of 527th having risen as high as 35th following his triumph at Royal St. George’s.

 

Kaiserslautern (Bundesliga Champions 1997/98)

The original Leicester City occurred almost 20 years ago in the German Bundesliga. FC Kaiserslautern, only promoted from the 2.Bundesliga the previous season, won the league by 2 points from defending Champions Bayern Munich.

Unlike Leicester however, they had splashed a bit of cash following their promotion. They signed Ciriaco Sforza from Internazionale in a great coup for the side along with Bulgarian international Marian Hristov, German winger Andreas Buck, and a young talent called Michael Ballack.

Manager Otto Rahhagel (remember him?)  popularized the phrase “kontrollierte Offensive” or controlled offence. He prefers a grass-roots approach to football, stressing the importance of at least two but mostly three big, strong headers in central defence. This defensive solidity saw them take top spot on on the 4th weekend of the season and never relinquished it. They remain the only club in the history of German football to win promotion to the top tier and follow that up by winning the league and given Bayern Munich’s domestic dominance, it doesn’t look likely that this record will ever be equaled.

St. Louis Rams (Superbowl Winners 1999)

The NFL prides itself on its “draft” system where by the worst team from the previous season gets the choice of the best players coming out of college, theoretically giving them the best chance to win next season.

This very rarely comes to fruition however as much like in football, in takes players time to adapt to the professional game, especially at the skilled positions. The 1999 Rams, their offense dubbed “the greatest show on turf” with Kurt Warner at Quarter-back proved why the motto “any given Sunday” rings true in the NFL. They went into the season projected to be the worst team in the League in previews, even worse than that years expansion team the Cleveland Browns.

They duly went 13-3 in the regular season securing their first playoff appearance since 1989 when the team was in Los Angeles. The Rams and it has turned out to be its one and only Super Bowl win to date. Wins over Minnesota and Tampa Bay brought them to the show and a 23-16 victory over Tennessee gave the 400/1 team at the start of the season, one of the biggest shocks in the history of the NFL.

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Will Air Force Blue win a record 8th 2000 Guineas for Aiden O’Brien?

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The first classic of the flat season takes place today at Newmarket as AIR FORCE BLUE looks to justify short odds and give Irish trainer Aiden O’Brien a record 8th win in the race. 

At first glance, the odds of 8/11 on the favourite might give you the impression that this is a weak renewal of the classic but this could not be further from the truth. There are still many question-marks surrounding the Coolmore runner. Will he stay the 1m trip given his predominantly speedy pedigree? will the continued deterioration of the ground on the Rowly Mile play into his rivals hands? Will the lack of a run since October leave him struggling for fitness at the business end of the race?

Air Force Blue heads the 2000 Guineas Market.

It is a much more open contest than the market suggests and I feel there is plenty of value to be found elsewhere.

STORMY ANTARCTIC figures to be his closest challenger according to the market on the back of his recent win over Foundation in heavy going over C&D earlier this month. Needless to say his chance increases with every milliliter of rain that gets into the ground before the 3:45 off time.

Stormy Antarctic will be hoping for stormy conditions.

His trainer Ed Walker believes that while the rain would be a help, it is not a necessity for his charge:

“I don’t think soft ground is vital at all as he is a very good moving horse. It is by default rather than design that he has run on soft ground so much,” the trainer added.

He copes with it very well, but I don’t think it is a necessity. It will help if the rain turns up before the race as it will test the stamina of two exceptional horses in Air Force Blue and Buratino.”

The horse that I believe has the best chance of getting close to or beating the favourite is Peter Chapple-Hyam’s charge MARCEL.

This giant son of Lawman sprung a massive surprise in the Racing Post Trophy last year beating subsequent Group 1 winner Johannes Vermeer at odds of 33-1 and being so lightly raced, it figures there is still plenty of room for improvement. The booking of Pat Smullen is a very interesting one and his high action means he will have little problem coping with the testing ground he may encounter.

Marcel could be the surprise package in the race.

Of the rest of the field, only BURATINO and MASSAAT figure to be involved in the shake up come the final furlong. The former is the leading hope for Godolphin and is the only horse to have beaten Air Force Blue. That however was over 6f in much different conditions at Ascot and the Coolmore colt has beaten him stylishly since. It wouldn’t surprise me if he failed to stay the extra two furlongs and given the probable conditions, his stamina questions will only be exposed further.

The latter is the only entrant of Shekih Hamdan Al Maktoum, just has a Leicester maiden win to his name and while he left that modest form well behind when a 4 length second to Air Force Blue in the Dewhurst, there is no reason to think that the extra furlong would lead to him turning the tables in this contest. Having only had the 3 runs it is safe to say there is improvement left in the tank and he should be picking up a valuable race this season but it would be a big shock of today proved to be his day.

In the first Classic of the year you are always taking a lot on trust, whether the horses without a previous run this season have wintered well, whether they are running over favourable  distances or whether the trainers are speculating and if they will get their ideal conditions on the day of the race.

With all this in mind I think that the confidence behind AIR FORCE BLUE is hard to ignore but he still should not be an 8/11 shot given the questions surrounding his reappearance. If the rain continues to come and the going becomes softer that will come in STORMY ANTARCTIC’s favour as his fitness and stamina edge will come into play but at current prices, it is hard to pass up the 10/1 price of MARCEL who could be the one to spring the upset.

PROBABLE OUTCOME:

1st- Air Force Blue

2nd- Marcel

3rd- Stormy Antarctic

4th Massaat

VALUE PICK: MARCEL (10/1)

Epsom Derby 2015 Preview

Horse Racing - Investec Spring Meeting - Epsom Downs Racecourse

The most famous flat race in the world of racing, The Epsom Derby takes place this Saturday, June 6th at the famous Surrey track with what looks like one of the more open renewal’s in recent years.

John Gosden’s Golden Horn is the current 7/4 market leader but with ground conditions almost certain to change in the coming days, it is far from certain that this unbeaten son of Cape Cross will get it all his own way.

The oldest race in the world is a 1m 4f race for 3yo thoroughbred colts worth a cool £1,434,000 in total run on the now infamous undulations of Epsom Downs in Surrey.

Here is a look at the Runners and Riders in full:

Now lets take a closer look at some of the main contenders:

GOLDEN HORN

Where else could you start but by looking at the £75,000 supplemented anti-post favorite Golden Horn of the John Gosden team. This unbeaten son of Cape Cross came in for strong market support after his recent win in the Dante Stakes when he had two rivals (Jack Hobbs and Elm Park) well beaten on the day.

Golden Horn (Left) beats Jack Hobbs (Center) and Elm Park (Right) in The Dante..

Golden Horn (Left) beats Jack Hobbs (Center) and Elm Park (Right) in The Dante..

That was over 1m 2f however and the original reason that owner/breeder Anthony Oppenheimer had not entered this horse in The Derby was due to the fact he did not think the horse would stay the 1m 4f trip. I feel that is significant coming from the man who arguably would know the horse best.

In a recent interview with the Racing Post, Oppenheimer said:

“John understands and agrees with me that there is a possibility Golden Horn may not have the stamina, but we’ve got to take the chance. We’d look very stupid if he turned out to stay a mile and a half and we hadn’t gone, wouldn’t we?

“I’ve always had my doubts about the horse staying, but we’re getting very close with the York trip of one mile two furlongs and almost another half a furlong, and he was still going away at the finish, so that gives us another few yards already. I reckon I’m up to a mile three, and the rest is in the lap of the gods.”

While he is correct in saying that Golden Horn appeared to be going away from his rivals at York, no track can compare to the camber these horses will be coming down at Epsom

Secondly I don’t feel that the race at York was a truly run 1m 2f contest in that they didn’t go a great gallop early doors and the two beaten horses were forced to come to the front a long way from home and as a result, were sitting ducks for the eventual winner.

All that said, he could very well be the class horse in the race and go on to win, but I just feel that with Aiden O’Brien and Andrew Balding having three and two horses in the race, they could very well set a stern pace which might be the undoing of any horse with stamina concerns such as Golden Horn, which is why I would be willing to take on the favorite with something at a better price.

JACK HOBBS

The other John Gosden trained runner and previous anti-post favorite for The Derby before stable-mate Golden Horn was supplemented still has a massive chance of turning the tables come Saturday afternoon.

This son of Halling, who has been bought in the lead up to the race by Godolphin and will race in their famous royal blue silks on the day, had been very impressive in his first two starts, the second of which was a 12 length success in a valuable handicap first time up this season until going down by 2 1/2 lengths in the Dante last time but the extra 2f are expected to see him in a better light.

Jack Hobbs canters to a facile success in a 0-105 Handicap on reappearance...

Jack Hobbs canters to a facile success in a 0-105 Handicap on reappearance…

The race was not run to suit last time out having struck the front a long way from home on a stiff track, he just ran out of steam close home and was passed by a fast finisher. More cover combined with a stronger pace to aim at will give him a chance to use his explosive turn of foot to put the race to bed around 2f out.

Jockey of the favorite Golden Horn, Frankie Dettori who had previously ridden Jack Hobbs on his three outings, is very wary about taking on his former mount:

“I am frightened of Jack Hobbs,” said Dettori. “I still think he is a good horse. My horse is favourite, he won his trial well and of course I am excited to be riding him. We will see happens on Saturday.”

Jack Hobbs new jockey, William Buick has been in fine form so far this season in his new partnership as one of the retained riders for Godolphin. This represents his best chance of winning a Derby to date and you can be sure that he will leave no stone un-turned in gaining an advantage for his mount.

One thing we do know about Jack Hobbs in comparison with the rest of the filed is that he is a very well-balanced horse, which can count for a lot when you swing around onto that Epsom home stretch. Many a Derby has been lost as a leading contender wandered down the camber and the ability to run in a true straight line is often over looked when assessing The Derby field.

While he was a clear second to the favorite in his last run, I believe that all the conditions are in place for him to overturn that form and win the race for John Gosden. A larger field will mean he should get a sufficient tow into the race unlike last time out and the extra 2f can only serve to bring him forward and allow him to use that devastating turn of foot we know he has on his day.

John Gosden has stated Thursday morning that he will walk the track on Saturday morning prior to confirming that Jack Hobbs will definitely take his chance as he is hoping that a downpour of rain will come Friday night as forecast to give him his favorite conditions.

If he definitely takes his chance he could very well be the one to side with for me.

ELM PARK

One of only 2 horses in this field with a Group One victory to their name, this Andrew Balding trained colt admittedly has 6 lengths to make up on Golden Horn and the possibility of fast ground will work against him, but in a race where the entire field have questions to answer, he looks like he could turn out to be the most solid each-way bet in the race.

He will without doubt come on for his run in the Dante, which was his first of the season and Andrew Balding’s charges have always stripped fitter for a run so there is a likelihood of improvement in him. He jumped, galloped and stuck his head out until he tired in the closing stages.

Elm Park would prefer if the rain came at Epsom Downs before Saturday.

Elm Park would prefer if the rain came at Epsom Downs before Saturday.

Andrea Atzeni was not overly harsh on him and as a result, one would think that a differently run race would see him get a lot closer to the principles on the big day.

Trainer Andrew Balding himself is quietly exuding confidence on his horses chances:

“You will see a better, fitter horse at Epsom. The only negative is his ability to handle the track. He was a bit bewildered at the Breakfast With The Stars and changed his legs. But that was because he was doing it for the first time. He loves to race up with the pace and will definitely stay.”

Similarly, Jockey Andrea Atzeni says he would not swap his mount for any other in the race:

“One of the main reasons I can see the Dante form being reversed is that Elm Park will come on a lot for the run. Also the mile and half trip could bring out the best in him at Epsom.

“I’m a big fan of Golden Horn and Jack Hobbs. Jack Hobbs seemed to work well at Breakfast with the Stars and looked potentially good. But I wouldn’t swap Elm Park for anything to be honest.”

“Breakfast with the stars” as Mr.Balding alluded to above was an opportunity for the horses to gallop the course at Epsom at an event organised by the course manager.

Yes it was off-putting that the colt handled Tattenham Corner like Bambi on Ice a couple of weeks ago but usually horses learn what to do from experience and I would let something so small as him changing his legs put me off taking him at an each way price leading up to the race. He is one of the few proven stayers and the more rain and faster pace he gets on the day, the better.

Is Elm Park the most likely winner?

No, he will need things to fall his way and maybe one of the more fancied horses to run below par but does he come here with the most solid credentials in the field?

Arguably yes. So I would not put anyone off backing him each way as I think he could run on into a place after being outpaced a couple of furlongs out.

GIOVANNI CANALETTO

Out of the main contenders for the race he’s possibly the horse with the most to prove, that said this son of Galileo has the size and scope to improve leaps and bounds once the penny drops with him.

That has been the problem so far though. In three runs he’s only registered one win and that was a facile 6 length victory in a 1m Leopardstown maiden as a 2yo. He had to abandon his scheduled reappearance at Chester because of a bad scope, a race which was won in convincing fashion by his stable-mate Hans Holbein.

When he did finally make it to the track this year he tasted defeat at the hands of a filly in Curvy who did not look like she was up to much in the ratings. He was held up in rear that day and when asked for his effort looked awkward carrying his head very high. He did eventually cede to run on powerfully and was only beaten a short way but it is hard to know if he has learned a sufficient amount to make his presence felt at Epsom.

Giovanni Canaletto streaking to an easy success at Leopardstown.

Giovanni Canaletto streaking to an easy success at Leopardstown.

There has however been a strong market move for this horse. Whether that is down to murmurs coming out of the Ballydoyle team or just the fact that leading jockey Ryan Moore has chosen him over Hans Holbein remains to be seen.

This is what Aiden had to say about him when he announced his jockey bookings for the race:

“Giovanni Canaletto seems in good form, He has done only a couple of half-speeds since running second in the Gallinule Stakes at the Curragh nine days ago but we’re happy with him and he will take his chance.

“We wanted to run him in the Chester Vase but that wasn’t possible due to a slight hold-up. It isn’t ideal running him back so soon, but he finished well in the Gallinule and Ryan liked him.”

There is always a plunge on the mount of Ryan Moore and he has been successful in the past with Ruler of The World so the fact that he has chosen Giovanni Canaletto could prove to be significant.

As I have stated above, with this horse you are backing him to fulfill his true potential rather than on any previous race track experience and I feel that in a race of this nature it is very hard to do that. He could run the best race of his career and still be beaten by 1 or 2 of these on all known form and for me that is the deciding factor.

He way strike similarly to his previous run and swoop late to claim a place but unless Aiden O’Brien has some shrewd tactical plan ready to catch out his rivals, it is hard to see how he can win the race on previous evidence.

POSSIBLE RESULT

As I stated earlier in the piece while Golden Horn was an impressive winner of The Dante I feel that 6/4 is far too short a price for him in a race that is over 2f extra that he is not guaranteed to get and also the fact that it will be run as a very different race with the Ballydoyle boys sure to have a plan of action.

For this reason I am going to side with Jack Hobbs to give his new Godolphin connections another Derby success (given he takes his chance). The longer trip will suit him down to the ground and with William Buick having ridden Golden Horn previously, he will know everything that horse has to offer. I expect Jack Hobbs to handle the camber well and use that exciting burst of pace with a couple of furlongs to go to seal a maiden derby for William Buick.

The horse that I will be backing at an each-way price is Hans Holbein (14/1). Having seen him in the flesh at Leopardstown on his reappearance I was very taken by him and coupling that with his easy success in the Chester Vase in what is usually a very good Derby Trial, I am willing to take a chance on him using his stamina to good effect near the end of the race to nab a place for us at a decent price. I think there is better horses than him in the race but I think for the risks involved with those at a shorter price it is worth a small play on Aiden O’Brien’s runner.

It is far from a vintage renewal of this great race but I expect it to be a very exciting 3 minutes or so nonetheless.

PREDICTION:

  1. Jack Hobbs
  2. Hans Holbein
  3. Golden Horn
  4. Elm Park