Racing: Betting salvation lies with the Lord

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The Independent Online
ACCORDING TO yesterday's City pages, Stanley Leisure, the fastest- growing chain of betting shops in the country, has just issued a profits warning because its customers have been doing rather well in recent months. This is, on the face of it, encouraging news. Perhaps the message has finally filtered through to the betting shop floor that finding value is the key to betting success.

Then again, perhaps not. Study the story closely, and it transpires that Stanley are still making fat profits, they are just not quite of the Bunteresque proportions that had been anticipated. Their share price barely flickered, and normal service will doubtless be resumed, not least because their punters will continue to back short-priced favourites whose odds do not begin to mirror their actual chance of winning.

Horses such as the appropriately-named Get Real, who seems sure to start

favourite for the Victor Chandler Handicap Chase at Ascot this afternoon. It is true that his latest run, when successful over today's course and distance, gives him a strong claim, but hardly that of a true 5-2 chance. For a start, he will run from 4lb out of the handicap, and while Mick Fitzgerald has barely looked at solid food for a week, he might yet carry a pound or two of overweight too.

He also ran a strange race at Warwick before his latest win, when he finished very tired and actually tipped over after passing the post, having looked a certain winner two out. All in all, he is not a solid favourite, but there are problems too with several of his rivals. Celibate looks exposed, Manhattan Castle runs well in Ireland only, while Monnaie Forte makes his seasonal debut and might also get caught up in a duel for the lead with Get Real.

In the circumstances, this nine-runner race is asking for an each-way bet, and there is an obvious one in the shape of Lord Dorcet (2.20), who may start as the rank outsider. Both his runs this year have been those of an unfit animal and his excellent second in last year's BMW Chase at Punchestown, when effectively running off a 26lb higher mark than today's, is a fairer guide to his talent. Fourth in last year's Victor Chandler, he is outstanding each-way value at around 25-1 to go at least one place better.

It is hard to see beyond Fourth In Line (1.45) and Tuitchev in the remaining races at Ascot, although the latter's price will make him unbackable. Fortunately, there are plenty of interesting races elsewhere, the most obvious being at Newcastle, where Lord Lamb (1.40), the North's most impressive novice hurdler, takes on a small but useful field. He should have their measure, although Major Sponsor in particular will offer a stern test.

The Dipper Novices' Chase, also at Newcastle, is the latest outing for No Retreat, who won the inaugural One Man Novices' Chase at Haydock two months ago. He won by a distance there, and could do so again today, unless Master Nova is even better over fences than he was over hurdles. At Warwick, meanwhile, Sadler's Secret (2.05) and Feels Like Gold (2.35), in the Warwick National, are the ones to be on.

Channel 4 has expanded its coverage from the Midlands track to include the novices' chase, which marks the second outing over fences for Unsinkable Boxer. Despite his lack of experience, Martin Pipe's runner is apparently a serious contender for the Gold Cup, and today's race will be instructive for both horse and punters.

The same should be true of the novices' chase at Ascot, although a trip to the betting shop will be required to catch it. Princeful, last year's champion stayer over hurdles, is about to start jumping the obstacles which his physique has always implied will prove to be his true calling. He too is prominent in Gold Cup betting, and while not every top hurdler makes a smooth transition to fences, Princeful should take it in his long, ground-swallowing stride.