When British tennis player Emma Raducanu won the US Open this year, she set a number of milestones in the sport. Not only was she one of the youngest ever winners at just 18 years old, but she was also the first ever qualifier to win a grand slam tournament. More importantly for sports bettors, she was the longest odds winner ever, starting the tournament at a remarkable 499-1 with some bookmakers.
Longshot winners are rare in sports but they can happen, and when they do, they make a wise, or perhaps daring, handful of punters very happy indeed. Unfortunately, these longshots are incredibly hard to spot. In games like poker, you can study hard and develop the skill of reading the hands of cards, but that’s not the same as reading the feet of a player in football, where the action is far less predictable. Most longshot winners are fans or family of the team or player, who place their bets more out of support and optimism than any carefully considered strategy.
Some of the most famous longshot winners come from soccer. While any side can beat their opposition on the day, predicting the outcome of a whole season is much harder. Even the most dedicated fans didn’t expect Leicester City to win the English Premier League in 2016, and the bookmakers clearly agreed with them, pricing the Foxes at 5000-1. The fans who held their faith certainly cleaned up when they took the trophy.
(Caption: Liverpool fans will never forget their night in Istanbul)
Faithful fans were also rewarded when Liverpool played in the final of the Champions League in Istanbul in 2005. 3-0 down at half time, the bookmakers had written Liverpool off at 100-1 to lift the trophy. A remarkable comeback, dubbed the Miracle in Istanbul, saw the Reds level the score in the second half and win on penalties, giving fans who backed them an extra bonus to celebrate.
Big winners in big races
Horseracing also sees its fair share of shocks. 2021 saw the one hundredth running of Europe’s richest horse race, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, with Hurricane Lane sent off as favourite at 5-2 and a German horse, Torquator Tasso, as the 80-1 outsider. By the end of the race, their roles were firmly reversed, with Hurricane Lane back in third as Torquator Tasso romped home in the mud.
Big races are famous for producing big winners, with Mon Morne winning the Grand National at 100-1 in 2009 and Auroras Encore winning the same race at 66-1 in 2013. However, neither comes close to the record in UK and Irish racing, which is held by the appropriately named He Knows No Fear, which won at 300-1 at Leopardstown in 2020.
American sports are just as open to upsets, with underdogs regularly rewarding the faithful with long odds wins. Perhaps the most famous of these was the so-called Miracle on Ice, at the 1980 winter Olympics held in Lake Placid. Despite hockey being a national sport, and having home advantage, the United States team were not expected to go for gold. In fact, they were priced at 1000-1, but still managed to take the top spot, beating their fierce rivals from Russia in the semi-finals along the way.
The 1969 New York Mets were seen as just as unlikely to win, especially following seven seasons where they finished no higher than ninth, losing over a hundred games in five of those. Priced at 100-1, they shocked the baseball world by taking the World Series against the Baltimore Orioles in just five games.
This year could see another shock, this time in the NFL, with the LA Rams set to surprise everyone, including the NFL tipsters. They were priced as long as 150-1 for the Super Bowl in pre-season, but following a five and four start, they are now as short as 8-1 with many bookmakers, making them fourth favourites overall.
At the end of the day, underdog winners are what makes sport so compelling, whether it’s a teenage tennis prodigy or a brow-beaten team finally coming good. We rarely have the foresight to back them and, until they invent the time machine, we probably never will, but they do help us keep that big-win dream alive.