Take home £80,000 or gamble on winning £1.5m: the choice is yours

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It is the sort of dilemma that most punters dream of facing: do you want a guaranteed prize of more than £80,000 or the chance of winning £1.5m by picking the winner of one race?

It is the sort of dilemma that most punters dream of facing: do you want a guaranteed prize of more than £80,000 or the chance of winning £1.5m by picking the winner of one race?

Nineteen punters have been wrestling with that question this week following their success in nominating the winners of six specified races in the Tote Scoop6 bet one week ago. That feat earned each punter a prize of £17,824, but with it comes the chance of an even greater win. The 19 punters now have to find the winner of another race this afternoon, in the knowledge that those who are successful will share a bonus pool which has grown to the grand total of £1,537,625.19. If none of the 19 pick the winner, the prize will roll over to next week.

The race is the 4.15 at Haydock, a wide-open handicap with 18 runners, and it did not take long for a number of last week's successful punters to realise that the race need not be a lottery. With 19 punters trying to find the winner in an 18-runner race, there was clearly one way in which they could all emerge as winners: by each selecting a different horse and agreeing to share their winnings the 19 could guarantee themselves a prize of more than £80,000.

Last night 13 of the 19 had already joined forces, and were hoping that the other six could still be persuaded to join them by 3.15 this afternoon, when the selections have to be submitted.

One of the winning tickets belongs to a syndicate organised by the Racing Post, and other winners have been making contact with them. A legal document stretching to 13 pages has been faxed around the country - and to Dubai and Portugal - to be signed and sent back to solicitors in Newmarket.

Simon Turner, spokesman for the Racing Post syndicate and the man who has a casting vote should it be needed after today's deliberations in a room set aside for them at Haydock racecourse, said yesterday: "Once the decision was made in midweek to try and join forces, it has been a race against time to get a legal document. It has been by far the hardest thing to achieve, harder than choosing last week's winners."

The Racing Post syndicate's decision not to go it alone involved some 50 individual members and was the subject of "a healthy debate".

Some of the other 18 winners are also syndicates, the Scoop6 bet having attracted the interest of many serious punters who see the rare chance of a huge prize. One of last week's losers staked £21,800 in combination bets. In startling contrast, one of the winners staked just £2 on a single line.

Turner believes that the most likely winner today is Merry Masquerade, one of seven runners in the race who won last time out. However, as Merry Masquerade is the clear favourite, Turner concedes that this would be far from the best of results if the same horse is also the choice of some or all from the six ambitious souls who have not yet joined the team.

Rob Hartnett, the Tote's spokesman, said: "I wouldn't say that collusion is unsporting, but a lot of our previous winners have laughed at the idea. Winning £1.6m changes your life, but a 13th share of that - well, you're not going to be able to retire to Rio on the proceeds."

If the prize is won today, it would be the first occasion that a seven-figure sum has been won on the Tote. In November, a race with nine runners and nine Scoop6 bonus punters resulted in six horses carrying all the punters' hopes. The winner on that occasion was one of the three horses that was not nominated.