Future looks bright for no-tax punters

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The age of tax-free betting which will arrive on Britain's high streets today will be, according to John McCririck, "a paradise for punters," and for a while at least, that will probably be so. When betting tax was abolished on the track back in the 1980s, the exhilaration was such that for the next few months, punters felt as if a point or two had been added to every winner, and a similar mood should sweep through the betting shops today.

But if this is paradise, it is one with more than its share of serpents in the undergrowth. If Britain's racehorse owners and their friends at the British Horseracing Board get too greedy, for instance (and the richer that people are, let's face it, the more they tend to want), punters could yet face a new charge on racing bets within a year or two.

Many bookies will be sorely tempted to tighten their margins here and there, in the hope that everyone is too busy betting with their extra nine per cent to notice. And as for the Cambridgeshire Handicap, the centrepiece of today's card at Newmarket, try to think of it as a tree bearing forbidden fruit. Give in to temptation, and your stay in paradise is likely to be all too brief.

Quite simply, there are at least 15 horses in the 35-runner field for today's headlong rush down the Rowley Mile whose chance of winning on their form to date is somewhere between good and excellent. As many as a dozen more would need to improve by no more than 7lb or 8lb on their best form to have a say in the finish. You could back a third of the entire field each-way and still not draw a penny in return. Betting in a race like this is not optimistic or speculative, it is wantonly reckless.

And of course, it has always been pretty much de rigueur, even in the days when we were paying the tax too. The only strategy which brings any reason to the whole business is to back a horse – or possibly two – at the sort of odds which can really make a difference. That rules out Alphaeus, who has been the favourite since the weights were published but has gone up 12lb since his last success, and Smirk, who won off 84 at Newmarket back in July, but races off 95 here.

Both horses have been well backed, are in the care of very shrewd handlers, and will go to post with a serious chance. The vital point is that odds of 7-1, or less, can never represent value when there are at least 10 or 12 credible alternatives.

A double-figure price is the minimum requirement, and among those at the head of the market, Transatlantic makes most appeal. Lightly raced, and lightly weighted, with the excellent Francis Norton to do the steering, he is well in on his five-length win at Sandown last time, and open to improvement.

At the early odds, though, the name which stands out is BIG FUTURE (nap 3.55) at 33-1. His last few runs have been a little hit and miss, although he is 8lb better off with Smirk for around six lengths at York in August, but it is his performance in the Hunt Cup at Royal Ascot – his last outing in a big field on a straight course – which must give him a decent each-way chance. Big Future was the runner-up to Surprise Encounter, and "won" the race on the unfavoured stands side. Amanda Perrett has an excellent record in big handicaps, while Richard Hughes takes the ride, an impressive team to have on your side at a rank-outsider's price.

Elsewhere on the Newmarket card, there is a 16-strong turnout for the Sun Chariot Stakes, including Summer Symphony, one of last year's best two-year-olds, who is making her seasonal debut. The progressive Independence (3.10) is the likely winner, though, while Caqui D'Or (4.30) must go well in the stayers' handicap.

At Redcar, there is a maximum field for the Two-Year-Old Trophy, and Maktavish (4.15) should take the lion's share of the £150,000 purse. Single Honour (4.40), who lost her maiden tag at the eighth time of asking at Windsor in July, is on a fair mark at Sandown, while over the jumps at Chepstow, Armaturk (2.00) may be the answer to the Free Handicap Hurdle.