Chris McGrath: My Gacho the banker to start winning roll as Scoop6 swells to record £5m

Inside Track
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The Independent Online

They are all here somewhere, all six of them. Depending on your moral constitution, they are silently beckoning, or silently mocking.

But it is no mere lottery. It is not like waiting for a ball to slow down, hesitate and then tip into some random slot on the roulette wheel. That's the maddening thing, that's what makes it all so tantalising. After all, times are hard – so hard, that the chance of an unprecedented win on a bunch of donkeys, relatively speaking, reduces even Kauto Star's appearance at Haydock to a footnote.

After 11 weeks of Tote Scoop6 rollovers, this newspaper contains the names of six horses with the potential to give you financial security for life, never mind during the present economic tempest. They are listed among 71 others, declared for six races. One by one, each of these races will disclose the code to crack a safe containing maybe £5m.

Run your finger up and down the list of runners, and you will touch the six names. The chances are that you will pass over most of them, because that is how the pool has become so fantastically engorged. For the same reason, however, the pool will almost certainly be won today. Things have reached the point where the number of bets struck, above all by syndicates, will catch up with all but the most unaccountable probabilities.

The people at the Tote have done their damnedest to keep things going by incorporating four mystifying all-weather races at Lingfield. It might be argued that they would achieve more for racing in the long term by allowing a curious public to "bank" on a seductive champion in Kauto Star. But they clearly take the view that nothing engages the imagination quite like stupefying amounts of dough, and they may have a point.

Certainly it is hard to imagine the proposed Sovereign Series – glib, reckless, self-important and deluded as it was – matching the slavering attention guaranteed these essentially mediocre animals. Purists will find that depressing, for the sport is of course rich in other fascinations. But its coarsest temptation, you suspect, will forever be the most powerful.

Even in the familiar environment of betting, however, these are uncharted waters. Only once previously, in the bet's nine-year history, has the Scoop6 win pool breached £1m. Yet now over £2m is carried forward, and that sum should at least double today.

During the miseries of recession, the present excitement vindicates Peter Jones, who introduced the Scoop6 as Tote chairman. But his dream was for small-stakes punters to scoop life-changing dividends, yet the most likely outcome is for a professional syndicate to cover all angles.

But who knows? Perhaps there will be a heart-warming alternative. Perhaps a struggling household will be salvaged by the sort of win banked last year by Agnes Haddock, from Cheshire, who has since been able to give up her ironing business. She staked a single £2 line, and chose her horses by names and numbers. She found number 13, to win the final leg, because her birthday is 13 December. Stories like that make you despair of a more scientific approach. But then there are the professional syndicates, who hunt down the bet together. The key to them, as with all pool bets, is the "dead money" bequeathed by losing punters over the past weeks. For once in your life, the odds are distorted in your favour.

So, where are they, then – these six steps to heaven? Well, My Gacho (Lingfield 2.10) looks a solid first rung, having impressed over course and distance during the week. Victoria Reel (Lingfield 2.40) met traffic on her last visit here but had made a promising all-weather debut, chasing home a flourishing track specialist at Kempton. This sharp mile looks ideal.

The one steeplechase in the bet features a strong fancy in OSAKO D'AIRY (nap, Haydock 2.45). He made a promising debut for Paul Nicholls at Aintree last month, rallying after the winner had flown, and looks sure to enjoy this extra distance.

Then it is back on the Flat for a listed race, complicated by the fact that Baharah is unproven beyond a mile. Her dam was second in the Oaks, so she may well stay, but John Gosden's Bronze Cannon (next best, Lingfield 3.20) beat subsequent Derby fourth Doctor Fremantle in the spring and made an encouraging comeback at the end of the turf season.

Over hurdles next, and Heathcliff (3.30 Huntingdon) looks interesting on his first start since changing hands in May. He had begun to find his feet when last seen.

And then the final agony. Last Saturday, nine of the 19 runners were covered in the last leg – including, unfeasibly, the 66-1 shot who went best for a long way, only to be run out of it on the flat. A grimly competitive affair this one is, too, but Gosden can again provide the solution through Prohibit (3.50 Lingfield). He looked a different horse last time, having been gelded – as well he might.

Alternatively, of course, you can try the Agnes Haddock approach. Or a rabbit's foot, if you prefer. But remember what they say. It didn't work for the rabbit.

Exotic Dancer faces playing second fiddle to Star again

Heartening though it was to see Exotic Dancer go round Aintree last month with renewed brio, failing by just a length to give 18lb to Knowhere, he seems no more likely than usual to get past his nemesis, Kauto Star, in the Betfair Chase at Haydock today. Kauto Star himself looked back to his best on his own reappearance, at Down Royal, so presumably both camps would settle for a repeat of last year, when the pair finished miles clear.

At least Kauto Star has one rival capable of keeping him honest, unlike Binocular on the same card. But another pretender to the hurdling crown, Crack Away Jack, faces a test in the Coral Ascot Hurdle – Chomba Womba, in particular, being no pushover.

Sam Thomas again rides Kauto Star – Ruby Walsh, as last year, having left Cheltenham last Saturday in an ambulance – and will likewise be hoping to replicate his 2007 success on Mr Pointment in the Totesport Becher Chase at Aintree tomorrow. Mr Pointment adores the big fences and has had a pipe-opener over hurdles, but faces a dangerously handicapped rival in Idle Talk.