In the long, illustrious history of the Derby, which was inaugurated in 1780, three horses – Jeddah (1898), Signorinetta (1908) and Aboyeur (1913) – have won at odds of 100/1. However, the horse that came closest to becoming the longest-priced winner in the history of British racing, never mind the Derby, was Terimon in 1989. Trained by Clive Brittain and ridden by Michael Roberts, the grey son of Bustino lined up at Epsom with just a lowly maiden race win to his name and was, justifiably, sent off at 500/1 rank outsider of the twelve runners, behind 5/4 favourite Nashwan.
While ultimately no match for Nashwan, who pulled clear in the closing stages to win, easily, by 5 lengths, Terimon nevertheless belied his eye-watering starting price; he made steady late headway to deprive 3/1 second favourite Cacoethes of second place close home amd thus become the longest-priced placed horse in the history of the Epsom Classic. A colourful character, with a reputation for ’tilting at windmills’, Brittain had apparently told owner Lady Beaverbrook beforehand that Terimon would be placed.
In the heyday of the on-course betting ring, the job of the tic-tac was to convey information to his, or her, bookmaker, by means of a series of coded arm movements. Odds of 33/1 were conveyed by crossing the arms and placing the hands flat on the chest. Verbally, odds of 33/1 were and, in some cases, still are, called out as ‘double carpet’, which, like the arm movements, was intended to keep the information secret from anyone not ‘in the know’.
Betting ring vernacular often draws on sayings and slang including, but not limited to, backslang and Cockney rhyming slang, for its inspiration and ‘double carpet’ is no exception. In criminal, or prison, slang dating from the nineteenth century, the term ‘carpet stretch’ meant three months’ imprisonment; three months was reputedly the length of time required by an inmate to to weave a carpet or mat for his cell in the prison workshop. Thus, in the betting ring, odds of 3/1 became known as ‘carpet’ and, naturally enough, odds of 33/1 became known as ‘double carpet’.
Generally speaking, it is fair to say that a good horse does not become a bad horse overnight and vice versa. Many horses that are sent off at long prices have demonstrated that they are disappointing, regressive, temperamentally unsound or just plain poor and, consequently, have little or no realistic chance of winning. However, not all outsiders are the complete ‘no-hopers’ that their odds suggest, so the trick is to look beyond recent performances – which, with few exceptions, form the basis of the betting market – and consider, instead, the entire career form of each horse.
Of course, form that is more than, say, a season old needs to be treated with a degree of caution, but viewing the ‘bigger picture’ may reveal a disparity in class, course, distance, going or weight, or even something as simple as a change of headgear, which has a bearing on the outcome of the race under consideration. Most horse races are won by horses attempting little or nothing more than they have achieved in the past, but a horse that has recently won a similar race, under similar conditions, is likely to start at significantly shorter odds than one that did so some time ago. This is particularly true if the latter has raced under unfavourable conditions, for whatever reason, on recent starts. However, this does not mean the horse cannot win again if conditions are, once again, in its favour.
The smallest number of finishers ever in the Grand National was just two, in 1928, and just one of them, 100/1 outsider Tipperary Tim, completed the course unscathed. The only other finisher, Billy Barton, had been left ahead at the fence before Becher’s Brook on the second circuit, but had been joined by Tipperary Tim when falling at the final fence; he was subsequently remounted and completed the course to finish a distant second.
The 1928 Grand National was run in testing conditions, but the main reason just two of the 42 starters finished was a melee at the Canal Turn on the first circuit, which decimated the field. The Canal Turn was, at the time, an open ditch and Easter Hero, who fell, and Eagle’s Tail, who refused, were the main agents provocateur in reducing the field to nine heading out onto the second circuit. At the fourth last fence, just three horses, headed by Great Span, were left standing; hindered by a slipping saddle, Great Span unseated rider at the second last and, when Billy Barton came down at the last, Tipperary Tim was left, at least temporarily, alone to gallop home unopposed.