Why do casual sports fans like horse racing so much?
One of the main reasons is the perception that anyone can win the race. Sports geeks can debate whether or not underdogs are more likely to win a major horse race than other events like an NBA Championship, a men's NCAA basketball title, the Indianapolis 500 or The Masters. But this opinion persists largely due to two reasons: the average fan's ignorance of the nuances of horse racing, and the precise quantification of the minuscule chances of a given horse winning the race.
It's true that lots of people who bet on the ponies love to slap down a $2 bet on a horse with long odds. After all, it's a low-risk, high-reward move: two bucks isn't a huge investment for an opportunity to turn it into dozens of dollars - or perhaps even more than a Benjamin. It's a bit like buying a lottery ticket - only with a vastly higher probability of cashing it in for a nice reward.
And for anyone who follows horse racing even casually, it's a periodic occurrence to see a huge underdog somehow beat the odds and win a race. It's a bit like reading about a hole-in-one at your local golf course, or a 300-game by a guy in your bowling league, or a half-court, buzzer-beating winning shot at a nearby high school or college basketball game. While these events are certainly rare, they do happen. And it's doubly satisfying when you're there to see it.
But every once in a long while, an earth-shattering upset comes along in the world of horse racing where it's nearly impossible to find anyone who would have predicted it (much less ponied up cash to bet on such an outcome). It may have more to do with the competition in a given race rather than any negative assessment of a given horse's abilities. Nevertheless, these are the upsets which find their way into U.S. horse racing lore.
Here are ten of the biggest upsets in the sport of horse racing in America:
10 Sarava, 2002 Belmont Stakes
9 Dare and Go, 1996 Pacific Classic Stakes
8 Arcangues, 1993 Breeders' Cup Classic
7 J.O. Tobin, 1977 Swaps Stakes
6 Angle Light, 1973 Wood Memorial Stakes
5 Canonero II, 1971 Kentucky Derby
4 Dark Star, 1953 Kentucky Derby
3 Jim Dandy, Travers Stakes of 1930
2 Donerail, 1913 Kentucky Derby
1 Upset, 1919 Sanford Memorial Stakes
Contrary to popular myth, this event did not inspire the term "upset" to be used to describe a surprising victory. But the irony still puts this accomplishment at the top of the list simply because of the horse that was beaten: Man O' War, whom some claim to be the greatest racer ever. Man O' War never lost in his 21 races - except in 1919 at this Saratoga Springs race. And you could even put an asterisk by this loss, because when the starting gates opened, Man O' War was still circling behind the starting line facing away from the other horses. Despite his misfortune, Man O'War still charged to the front of the pack; but just missed overtaking Upset by half a length. (To be fair, the result wasn't wholly unexpected; Upset had finished in the money in his previous three races, including a place against Man O' War at the same track previously.)
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