There have been 759 Grade 1 winners in the UK and Ireland since the start of 2003, writes Tony Keenan; that’s a lot of horse right there and bound to include a few duds. The modern jumps pattern suffers from graded race inflation where some races that were once of lesser standard have been promoted to Grade 1 status and we inevitably get winners that are less talented than ideal.
But exploitation of further Grade 1 opportunities is not the only reason for inclusion in this very subjective list. Sometimes there are races or even divisions that seem to produce false Grade 1 horses. Sometimes races simply fall apart on the day and produce freak results. Sometimes a horse comes up with a big performance as a once off and goes completely sour.
So without further ado, let’s count down the ten worst Grade 1 winners since 2003 and insult some connections [apologies in advance – Ed.]. But first, a few (dis)honourable mentions for those that just failed to make the cut:
- McKinley (2015 Slaney Novice Hurdle) – Willie Mullins had just about gotten over this 33/1 shot upsetting Tell Us More when Nichols Canyon did the same to Faugheen last weekend; we’ll likely all be wondering how this horse won a Grade 1 in years to come.
- Lord Windermere (2013 RSA Chase, 2014 Gold Cup) – Left off the main list to avoid the accusation of Culloty-bashing, Lord Windermere has to be one of the worst horses to win two Festival championship races; Boston Bob likely would have won his RSA if standing up while his Gold Cup win remains one of the most bizarre races you will ever watch.
- Lethal Weapon (2008 Durkan New Homes Juvenile Hurdle) – This list could be populated entirely with limited horses that won Grade 1 juvenile hurdles and there are a few below; Lethal Weapon is an extreme example as they downgraded the race the following year!
- Ebaziyan (2007 Supreme) – A funny story: I’m in the stands at Punchestown after losing a good few quid on Ebaziyan in the 2007 Morgiana and my friend (who has done the same) turns round in a fit of pique and says ‘that bastard will never win another race’; a swift match bet ensues. Ebaziyan wins twice more in his career, a pair of egg-and-spoon races at 2/5 and 8/11.
- It Takes Time (2005 Ascot Chase) – Not a bad horse by any means but It Takes Time was no Grade 1 performer; he was beaten in his eight starts prior to this run and went 0/18 for the rest of his career.
The Bottom Ten, in reverse order:
- Cinders And Ashes (2012 Supreme)
Cinders And Ashes beat some good horses in his Supreme, Grade 1 winners Darlan and Trifolium in the frame, while Galileo’s Choice and Distant Memories, rated 110 and 114 on the flat respectively, were down the field along with Simenon and Colour Squadron. Rather than being the start of something, it was the beginning of the end for the horse whose form figures afterwards read:25PP83CF68 and the one day he looked like he might threaten the judge at Aintree last season when coming into the race in form, he gets carried out.
He was last seen when beaten ten lengths in a flat maiden and his trainer Donald McCain decided to retire him over the summer. Sadly for McCain, the horse typifies where his career has gone in the last few seasons and is his last winner of a really high-profile race; he faces a long road to get back to relevance. Cinders And Ashes stands on a pyre to how horses can go sour and meet with ignominious racing ends.
- Carlys Quest (2005 Punchestown Stayers Hurdle)
End-of-season races have a habit of producing queer results and there were few stranger than the 11yo Ferdy Murphy-trained hurdler winning this race; he was beaten 49 lengths on his previous start off 135 and failed to win in 20 subsequent career starts. There were some good horses in his field, notably Solerina and Emotional Moment, but none ran to form with the first four home all returned 14/1 or bigger. Bizarrely, Murphy also trained the third Basilea Star, another 25/1 shot!
In terms of context, 11yo winners of Grade 1 races in the UK and Ireland are rare; there were just 16 that age or older since 2003. Most of those are known only by one name: Kauto, Tidal, the Fly, Monets, the Inca, Hardy, Sizing and Moscow; Carlys just doesn’t really work that way.
- Annie Power
A controversial inclusion, no doubt, but Annie Power’s career has played out in the intersection between two problem areas for modern racing: the Mullins domination and graded race inflation. The best horses in the hands of one trainer and more options than ever has led to horses that would ordinarily oppose each other regularly doing so infrequently if at all. Perhaps we’ll see less of this in 2015/16 – there were signs of the Mullins horses taking each other on at Punchestown last weekend – but this might not apply to Annie Power.
Annie Power has won three Grade 1s at odds of 4/11, 1/6 and 2/9 and has faced one mare rated higher than 142 in those (Cockney Sparrow); even by the standards of mares' races that’s poor. There was plenty of furore about Annie Power taking on the geldings last season but that discussion seems to have been lost in the aftermath of her Cheltenham fall; perhaps it is a case of the sympathy vote though I’m not sure if that’s for the punter or bookmakers after her costly mistake!
- Tiger Roll (2014 Triumph Hurdle)
As Festival Grade 1 winners go, Tiger Roll is a pretty ropey one, perhaps the worst in recent memory. His win was the product of the perfect storm of circumstances. He competes in what is almost always the weakest of the national hunt divisions: juvenile hurdles are confined to a single age group and generally include neither good flat horses nor horses bred for jumps.
On the day itself, the two Willie Mullins horses Abbysial and Adriana Des Mottes took each other out at the second hurdle; they proved to be the most talented runners in the field, winning a Grade 1 apiece shortly afterwards. Callipto, who looked like the biggest danger to Tiger Roll at the time, had his leathers break near the second last which spoiled his chance too. Since then, and with the exception of the Mullins pair, the horses behind Tiger Roll that day have gone a collective 14 from 108.
- Snoopy Loopy (2008 Betfair Chase)
Typically, there aren’t bad winners of the Betfair Chase – since its inauguration, the likes of Kauto Star (four times), Silviniaco Conti (twice), Cue Card and Imperial Commander are on the honour roll. Not so in 2008 when the summer jumper Snoopy Loopy pulled off a 33/1 upset and he certainly did plenty to suggest it was a fluke afterwards, failing to win in nine subsequent career starts, pulled up in five of those.
That year’s Betfair included some really good horses but Exotic Dancer just didn’t run to form while Kauto Star unseated Sam Thomas at the last; he wasn’t quite himself on the day but looked the most likely winner at the time. That left Snoopy Loopy to lead home another less than stellar rival, the 25/1 shot Tamarinbleu.
- Hide The Evidence (2006 Royal Bond)
Hide The Evidence started his career in highly promising fashion, winning four of his first eight starts, but managed to win just twice in his next thirty-eight. His last two starts? Beaten off 104 in a Wexford handicap hurdle and off 60 in an Ayr flat handicap.
Though full value for his win on the day – Hide The Evidence was sent off 10/1 and the fourth choice of the market – the Royal Bond that year was a strange race run in dangerously high winds. Part of the Hatton’s Grace card at Fairyhouse, the rest of the meeting was abandoned and run three days later and unsurprisingly the form proved less than solid; though, in fairness to the winner, the ones in behind didn’t amount to much either.
- Hollow Tree, Ruacana, amongst others (Finale Juvenile Hurdle)
Run at Chepstow in late December, typically in weather you wouldn’t put a dog out in, the Finale Juvenile Hurdle brings together a confluence of heavy ground and a weak division that produces sub-standard Grade 1 winners. While good horses have run in the race - the like of Countrywide Flame springs to mind - a lot of the big Triumph Hurdle hopes stay away from a slog on deep ground in preparation for March.
Hollow Tree and Ruacana are just representatives of the general pattern in a race where Le Rocher, Marsh Warbler and Me Voici could easily be included too. Put it like this, bad winners are much more common than good ones like Walkon and Jair Du Cochet.
- Mick The Man (2007 Punchestown Champion Bumper)
As rogues go, Mick The Man was a pretty talented one but he had the head carriage from hell and it is amazing he won any race, much less a Grade 1. After winning on his bumper debut, Mick The Man went on a run of four seconds (something that was to become a theme in his career) before winning this Grade 1 from Woodbine Willie and Shirley Casper.
His hurdling career was a debacle however. He failed to break his maiden until his eighth attempt and was a beaten favourite nine times under rules, looking ever more recalcitrant as time went on and becoming an hero of in-running layers. The real hero of the piece however was Nina Carberry who somehow extracted a top level win from him.
- New Little Bric (2007 Scilly Isles Novice Chase)
This February novice chase over two and half miles at Sandown could easily be renamed the Silly Isles and has a tendency to produce horror winners; New Little Bric – who really hadn’t a chance with a name like that – was among the worst but the likes of For Non Stop and Napolitain run him close. New Little Bric went two years without a win after this victory.
The Scilly Isles exists in a dead spot in the calendar, often too close to Cheltenham for the big name novice chasers to take part, and those horses tend to be campaigned over either two or three miles rather than the intermediate trip. In fact, you’d have to go back to Best Mate in 2001 to find a winner worthy of the name.
- Glenelly Gale (2003 JN Wines Champion Chase)
Though Glenelly Gale did win a Grade 2 novice chase in his younger days, this had boilover written all over it and he ranks as the worst Grade 1 winner since 2003 in my eyes. He came into the race rated 128 and had been beaten off that mark in the Munster National in his previous start and that year’s JN Wines was run on firm ground; I can’t even remember the last time I saw firm as the description for an Irish jumps meeting.
Sent off the outsider of four, he came home ahead of Arctic Copper and to add insult to injury he was turned out the f0llowing day in the Fortria Chase at Navan where he finished second to Moscow Flyer! Not a bad weekend’s work by any account but genuine Grade 1 horses just don’t do that and Glenelly Gale was no Grade 1 horse.
- Tony Keenan
Tony's is of course a subjective list. Who is your worst Grade 1 winner in living memory? Leave a comment below and fuel the debate...