Who wants to be a millionaire? Quite a lot of you, it seems. And come on, just how difficult can it be to pick six winners in six races, of which the biggest field is 10? The answer yesterday, without a single successful winning favourite involved, turned out to be very nearly impossible. The lure, a Tote Jackpot pool of a record £2,308,852 went begging. But there was the consolation of almost a quarter of a million going to small-time £4 punter.
The record total was made up of the £981,875 carried over from Newcastle on Wednesday, when a 40-1 shock winner brought to an end most hopes in the daily bet, and the £1,326,977 added during the morning as wind of the huge reward blew round racecourses, betting shops and online accounts.
The Jackpot had not been won since last Monday week ago at Yarmouth; the theatre of dreams that staged yesterday's potentially life-changing denouement was Haydock. With it came the fascination of the inexorable diminishment, the and-then-there-were-none inevitability of the Ten Little Indians.
The flame of hope guttered to nothing for many as early as the first race. More than £2m worth of bets disappeared when Fabiello, at 11-2, romped away from sadly one-paced market leader 11-10 Residence And Spa. The £268,951.05 left was swiftly reduced to £70,758.91 with the eclipse of another hotpot; Sweetie Time, at 6-5, was worried out of victory by 3-1 chance Tallahasse.
The axe continued to fall ruthlessly. At the half-way point just £6,136 remained live after 9-2 second favourite Spinning Spirit held on dourly. In the fourth leg 10-1 shot Uphold put his nose in front in the last stride to reduce the ticket pot to £702.50, and in the fifth Joseph Lister's 8-1 victory left just £94.50.
By then it was known that the monster jackpot would be taken, for each of the 10 runners in the final leg was covered to some degree. The most popular choice was the 3-1 favourite Casino Night, with £19-worth, the least 40-1 outsider Pitbull, deemed worthy of just a 50p investment.
In the end, the heart-stoppers were Starkat and King Zeal, who were both slowly away and who fought out the finish. Starkat, with Jamie Spencer in the saddle, purred smoothly past his rivals in the straight to lead inside the final furlong. King Zeal, despite rather stop-start progress under more inexperienced James Rogers, came keenly to challenge and managed to get his head in front at one point. But no need to ask the audience who they'd rather have riding for them for such a prize, the former champion jockey or a 7lb-claiming apprentice. Sorry, James.
Starkat's half-length success produced a dividend of £113,054.10 to each £1 stake. Most of the winners turned out to be large-staking pro punters, for whom such a sum would not only not be life-changing, but hardly lunch-changing. But for one as yet unidentified punter in a Ladbrokes shop, there was a significant result. A total wager of £4, with his winning bet to a £2 unit stake, brought a return of £226,108.20. And an afternoon's excitement that is probably priceless.
Sue Montgomery's Nap
Desperate Dan (3.30 Brighton) Far from a world-beater, but has been an admirable servant in his own grade and today is going for his 19th victory on his 95th outing with most boxes – form, course, distance, ground and attitude – ticked.
Fantasy Fry (6.55 Haydock) Looks fairly assessed for his handicap debut and though he has yet to encounter soft ground, his sire Avonbridge and several members of his close female family – notably outstanding grand-dam Milligram – coped with it.
One to watch
She failed to justify favouritism when third on her debut at Goodwood, but Sharnberry (E A Dunlop) still looks a bright prospect, judging by the way she quickened once clear of the traffic problems she encountered.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Toms River Tess (5.40 Newmarket)