The world of horse racing is full of miraculous stories, legendary winners and incredible battles for the first-place finishes that will put any horse and jockey in the history books. Iconic horses like Red Rum, Frankel, Secretariat and other have rightly taken their places in horse racing legend – but what about the near men, unlucky riders and unfortunate beasts that didn’t quite make the cut? From solo winners to bone crunching disasters and ridiculous loss-streaks, these are four of the craziest stories ever to come out of the horse racing scene.
Foinavon at the 1967 Grand National
One of Europe’s, and the world’s, most watched horse races, only twice in the 180-year history of this great race has only one horse crossed the finish line. Most interesting of these two cases was the 1967 event, which has since gone down in the books as possibly the most incident-packed race of all time. It was won by 100-1 outsider Foinavon, a horse known for his jumping form and patchy race career until the point. Once owned by Princess Anne, Foinavon had already been through several owners by 1967 – and no-one gave him an outside chance of winning this most famous of races.
However, the race would be anything but a run-of-the-mill event. Enter the 23rd fence on the second lap of the course with Foinavon cruising in last place, behind a tight pack that included race favourite Honey End and the unseated runner Popham Down. Just before the jump Popham Down panicked and veered across the track, causing a 28-horse pile up that knocked a dozen riders off their horses and even made some start running backwards.
The only horse to avoid the ensuing melee? You guessed it: Foinavon. The 100-1 shot, ridden by replacement jockey John Buckingham, snuck past every other horse and over the fence, seeing off a spirited challenge from Honey End to win the race as one of only 18 horses to actually finish that fateful day – that would go down as of the most ridiculous Grand Nationals in history.
Les Boots: The World’s Worst Jockey?
Holding the unenviable distinction of the worst race record in history for any jockey, of 39 races and 40 falls, is Australian Les Boots. Somehow managing to fall twice in one race, and then also apparently taking a tumble off the stretcher when being carried to the ambulance, Les nonetheless completed an 18-year career as a jockey based in the Australian state of Adelaide. Despite his eventful career, Les Boots remained comically upbeat about his exploits – joking in a 1987 interview that all his injuries meant “I was the only jockey they reckon in Australia that got bed and breakfast for 15 years.”
A Lap to Phar: Poison and Intrigue
One of the most distinguished racehorses in the world during his short six-year career in the 1920s, Phar Lap won 23 major races in Australia and New Zealand. However, in 1932 his life was cruelly cut short in a sudden illness that lasted less than 24 hours. His death was blamed on overdosing horse tonic, gastroenteritis and, most morbidly interesting of the lot, arsenic poisoning by American gangsters. No doubt deserving of another mention on these pages, Phar Lap’s sad story has gone down as one of the most mysterious in racing history.