2018 Year in Review: Horse Racing's Top 5 Biggest Upsets

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

December 21st, 2018

Although 2018 was generally a very productive year for racing’s established stars, that doesn’t mean the season went by without any memorable (and occasionally monumental) upsets.

Some upsets featured high-priced winners, while others featured favorites that were defeated at very short prices. Comparing and ranking them is tricky, but after going back through the year’s results, here’s my opinion on five of the biggest racing upsets of 2018. From the bottom up….
  1. Promises Fulfilled Beats Good Magic in the Fountain of Youth

The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) and reigning champion two-year-old Good Magic was supposed to be an effortless winner of the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II), his first start of the season. Bettors made the son of Curlin an odds-on favorite at 7-10, not surprising since he was facing a field of questionable quality on paper.

But races aren’t run on paper, and when Good Magic came up flat in the homestretch, it was the previously unheralded pacesetter Promises Fulfilled who kept on going to win by 2 ¼ lengths, with Good Magic trudging home third. In retrospect, the outcome wasn’t that surprising—Good Magic had missed some training due to a foot issue, and Promises Fulfilled would win three more graded stakes races before the end of the year—but at the time, it was a shocking upset that had the racing world abuzz.
  1. Discreet Lover Wins the Jockey Club Gold Cup

The old saying “pace makes the race” was proven true once again in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I), where an intense speed duel among the favorites produced a fast early/slow late race shape that allowed the late-running Discreet Lover to get up and win by a neck at 45-1. For a horse that had finished twelfth in the Woodward Stakes (gr. I) one race prior, winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup was a big step up and a career-defining moment for Discreet Lover
  1. Vale Dori Stuns Stablemate Abel Tasman in the Zenyatta Stakes

This upset was less about the victory by Vale Dori (already a proven Grade 1 winner) and more about the defeat of her stablemate Abel Tasman, the overwhelming 1-10 favorite. The Zenyatta was supposed to be little more than a public workout for the six-time Grade 1 winner, but following a slow start, Abel Tasman simply failed to fire and struggled home fifth of six, triggering massive show payoffs. In a rarity that you don’t see very often, Vale Dori paid $24.60 to win… and $40.60 to show, all because Abel Tasman ran off the board.
  1. Knicks Go Upsets the Breeders’ Futurity at 70-1

Apparently, no one told the lightly-raced two-year-old Knicks Go that he was supposed to stop after setting the pace in the Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I). As the longest shot in the field at 70-1, the script called for him to fade and finish last. Instead, Knicks Go found a new gear at the top of the stretch and opened up to win by 5 ½ lengths, paying $142.00 to win in the third-biggest Grade 1 upset so far this century.
  1. Country Chick Posts 123-1 Upset at Kentucky Downs

She had finished last in her lone previous start over the tricky turf course at Kentucky Downs. Her lone win had come at Belterra Park, and she was entering off a fourth-place finish in an allowance race over the Tapeta track at Presque Isle Downs. Country Chick seemed overmatched in every way when entered in a 6 ½-furlong allowance race at Kentucky Downs, but easy as 1-2-3, the daughter of Country Day rallied from just off the pace to score a 123-1 upset for owner/trainer Floyd Cobb. The $248.60 win payoff she generated ranks as the highest of the year, so from a strictly monetary perspective, this was the biggest racing upset of 2018.