Racing: Chandler presents a rich target: Paul Hayward reports on the bookie who takes bets when bigger firms fight shy

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VICTOR Chandler is the most prosperous looking bookmaker on the racecourse. No, make that the most prosperous looking human being, if poetic licence will permit the two categories to mingle for a moment.

Chandler, who sponsors today's big race at Ascot, also shares the title of most respected bookie with his fellow independent, Stephen Little, and so even those of us who tend to regard members of his trade across a carefully mapped out no-man's-land will be willing to celebrate his involvement this afternoon in one of the most valuable two-mile chases of the year.

That driving a wedge between punters and their incomes is a profitable activity is demonstrated by Chandler's impossible aura of good health and wealth. Clothes-wise, he would make Donald Trump look like a down-and-out, and with that tan of his could make Tom Jones feel like a pasty-faced tube-train driver. The Bentley - number plate 'VC1' - provides further evidence that trading where Coral, William Hill and Ladbrokes generally fear to tread - in the monster-bets market - is more profitable than the accountants who run the big three seem to realise.

Without Chandler and Little, people say, the on-course betting market would be a wasteland for those who like to strike large wagers at the advertised price (or, in other words, do not like their bets diluted by restrictions). At Ascot yesterday, the inhabitants of the betting ring could still recall the day Little took a win bet of pounds 50,000 on Dilum for the 1991 Coventry Stakes (the horse won at 11-10), and Chandler himself has been known to accept investments of pounds 90,000, particularly at the Cheltenham Festival, where he adopts a fearless policy of accommodating all-comers.

Mind you, in these recessionary days the number of market players able to land big blows has shrunk considerably, and the word on the track is that Chandler, and others like him, are currently owed a good deal of money. Though it is adifficult thing to say from this side of the barbed wire, it can only be hoped that bad payers never endanger the few remaining bookies who are willing to bet eyeball to eyeball with their clients.

For the record, you may also care to learn that Chandler's assistant, the 82-year-old Geoffrey Hamlyn, recalls his employer's grandfather, Bill, as one of the biggest punters of the pre-war period. Hamlyn said yesterday: 'I remember him (Bill Chandler) having a big bet on Ocean Swell, who won the 1944 Derby while I was on a boat preparing to run up the Normandy beaches. I managed to listen to the commentary on the radio before being dropped in six-feet of water.' No wonder Hamlyn is such a celebrated figure on British racetracks.

So much for the sponsor, but who will deprive Chandler of his philanthropically-advanced booty? If Chandleris correct in his assessment of today's race then Cyphrate ought to beat Sybillin, an elevated novice, and Deep Sensation, who found both the distance and the heat of competition beyond him in the King George VI Chase.

Though Sybillin's experience over fences has been restricted to just three novice chases, there is a large school of thought which believes he will make the transition to tough handicaps and beyond. Put more plainly, Mark Dwyer, his jockey, thinks he will win today, though it is worth remembering just how experienced some of his rivals are, and plumping, each-way, for a horse like Freeline Finishing.

The aim, of course, as always, is to end up looking like Victor.