Wednesday 22 October 2014

Four horses that just might make it a happy new year

Ian Maclean

Published 06/01/2014 | 02:30

Most punters would be lying if they didn't admit to dreaming of clicking with that outrageous-odds multiple bet that yields up a life-changing sum.

In the game of life, if you have successfully navigated 'Tricky Thirteen' then congratulations! You may not have quite achieved the high score, but welcome anyway to the next level, 'Fantasy Fourteen'. It's that time of year indubitably when we pause and look forward in the hope of better.

Both neuroscience and social science emphatically suggest that we are hard-wired with an optimism bias: this was reinforced for me over the holidays when I was guest at a wedding and found myself seated next to a French divorce lawyer (ironic, eh?) who, while otherwise curiously quiet, matter-of-factly revealed that three out of every four marriages in Paris currently end in divorce.

Overall, we are programmed to expect things to turn out better than they actually do. People hugely underestimate their chances of losing their job or being diagnosed with cancer; expect their children to be extraordinarily gifted; envision themselves achieving more than their peers; and overestimate their likely life span (sometimes by 20 years or more).

If optimism is good business for my new French acquaintance, then it is even bigger business for lottery agencies. What else would account for almost 232 million Powerball Lottery tickets being sold in the US across 43 States when the chance of winning first prize is one in 175 million?

Most punters would be lying if they didn't admit to dreaming of clicking with that outrageous-odds multiple bet that yields up a life-changing sum. And so, simultaneously embracing all that optimism bias and neatly eschewing any reasonable logic to the contrary, the following is a speculative lottery-ticket multiple recommendation for the four 'majors' of the 2014 racing calendar.

First up is the Gold Cup and while many will be looking no further than the King George or Lexus winners (Silviniaco Conti and Bobs Worth) over the Christmas festival I am pretty keen on the chances of Al Ferof for Cheltenham's main event in March. His tendency to jump slightly right at Kempton meant he was left out of contention by the home turn in the King George. However, he did stay on past Long Run and Mount Benbulben in the straight and he has a superb record at Cheltenham with a Paddy Power Gold Cup victory and a Supreme Novices already on his Prestbury CV. He is one of the few still unexposed in the field with the class to trouble the principals and, by the same stamina-laden sire as stablemate Silviniaco Conti (Dom Alco), there is every possibility he could improve over the extended distance. At 25/1 he represents the best market value at this stage.

Monbeg Dude actually ran in the Gold Cup in 2013 but his jumping -- a perennial Achilles heel -- meant he never got into contention. The lightly-raced gelding did manage to win the Welsh Grand National with the unique wizardry of Paul Carberry last year in spite of not being able to jump. A spell with Zara Phillips lately seems to have ironed out his frail agility and dramatically improved the horse's performance by consequence. A recent Cheltenham victory increased his handicap rating to 146 which will pretty much guarantee him a run with a tasty weight in the Aintree Grand National. He has bottomless stamina it appears, and at 25/1 Monbeg Dude represents a sporting chance in the race first won by the appropriately-named Lottery back in 1839.

Toormore made an instant impression on the track when he beat a well-regarded horse on his debut at Leicester in May. He didn't run again until Goodwood at the end of July when he gave a start and a beating to subsequent Breeder's Cup Juvenile winner Outstrip, showing an electrifying turn of foot in the process. That Group 2 win was topped by his only subsequent start -- victory in the Group 1 National Stakes at the Curragh from previous Group 1 scorer Sudirman. The bare form of his wins read of the highest order but what is more enticing is the fact connections are adamant he was only the shell of the horse he will be next year. He is more of a pure Guineas horse than some who head him in the betting market and 10/1 looks attractive about the Richard Hannon colt even at this stage.

Not surprisingly, Aidan O'Brien possesses many of the 2014 Derby aces even at this stage down at Ballydoyle and actually houses four of the first five horses in the ante-post market. It is fairly certain from where we stand today that even he could not predict with certainty which of those might be the pick in early June. One colt not amongst those at the forefront of the market is Agena. By keyman sire Galileo, the colt won the seven furlong maiden on the Leopardstown card on Champion Stakes day in September on his sole juvenile start of 2013. As a lesser fancied stable representative (the yard's favourite went off 8/11) he threaded his way from the very back of the field -- despite running desperately green -- to win without enduring a hard race. Wholly unexpected then, a great deal more can be expected now and 25/1 for the Derby is not totally implausible.

The combined odds of all four connecting in 2014 isn't one in 175 million. Or even 1 in eight million (like the Irish lottery). It's just 193,335-1: which would yield a tidy return of €580,000 for the price of a Lotto ticket. Alternatively, of course, you could always buy a Lotto ticket . . .

Irish Independent

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