Our team of tipsters highlight their best bets for the year ahead, including a pair of Classic hopefuls.
Seeing as ante-post wagers don’t come to fruition in an instant, let’s take a little extra time in having another look at Masar’s effort when sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November, which you can watch here:
Seemingly drawn well in six, you’ll notice his advantageous position was gone in a flash after being squeezed for room by James Garfield cutting across from out wide and Beckford holding his line on the inner, meaning William Buick was on the back foot heading into the first turn. Masar was then lit up by further jostling, before eventually settling third from last.
The turf course at Del Mar is on the inside of the main track, which itself is renowned for being one of the tightest courses on the west coast of America, so making up ground from the back of the field was always going to prove troublesome in races such as the Juvenile Turf. So it proved.
But I’d be more inclined to focus on what unfolded in the short home straight, the imposing Masar bounding home down the outer under a rather forlorn hands-and-heels drive to finish a never-nearer sixth. He was the only horse to post a sub-12-second sectional for the final furlong.
Two basic conclusions can be derived from the run: Masar was unlucky not to go close to victory in his final outing as a two-year-old, and that he promises to improve significantly when presented with a more severe test of stamina in his three-year-old campaign.
Trainer Charlie Appleby has proved the best handler of two-year-olds in Britain over the past couple of years, but he’s maintained all along this Chesham third is by no means the finished article and has already suggested he hopes he’s one for the Classics.
With odds of 33/1 available about the horse in question in markets for both the 2000 Guineas and Derby, there’s no doubt his prospects for Epsom look significantly brighter.
He’s already won on an undulating course, having struck first time out at Goodwood in May, and he’s happy on summer ground, but above all he has a middle-distance pedigree to die for.
As well as being fortunate enough to be a son of Derby winner New Approach, his dam - a granddaughter of a half-sister to fellow Derby heroes Sea The Stars and Galileo - won the UAE Derby in 2011.
As for the quality of Masar’s form, on top of his Solario Stakes victory at Sandown he’s been placed behind September and Happily this year and they are favourite and second-favourite respectively for the Oaks, so there was no disgrace in just failing to successfully give them weight.
He’s definitely been underestimated with Aidan O’Brien’s blue bloods bossing the betting and will do nicely as a long-range punt to help keep the Flat fire burning through the cold winter months.
By Ben Linfoot
With all eyes firmly on the jumps season it’s about the time of year I start looking for an ante-post Classic bet on the Flat and the Investec Oaks market looks ripe for a speculative wager.
Aidan O’ Brien dominates the betting with Happily (7/1), September (10/1) and Clemmie (20/1) but that trio don’t interest me at all. Happily and Clemmie look bred for a mile or 10 furlongs at best while September, who should stay 1m4f on her pedigree, looks short enough at 10/1 considering she has lost four on the trot.
There is already talk of aiming Fillies’ Mile winner Laurens at the French Oaks rather than Epsom and then, though Charlie Appleby has a couple of interesting hopefuls in Magic Lily and Wild Illusion, you are tapping into the fillies filed away in the drawer marked ‘Unknown Quantities’.
My selection, Contingent, trained by Dermot Weld and owned by Khalid Abdullah, is certainly in that compartment but at 25/1 I think she’s worth a small investment.
A daughter of Frankel, we’ve seen his early progeny have excelled when it comes to stamina reserves and this filly, out of Proportional, should not be lacking any staying power.
She’s a half-sister to Variable, also trained by Weld, who was unbeaten in two runs at 1m4f, including at Listed level, and her trainer said straight after her maiden win at Leopardstown that ‘she may be an Oaks filly.’
That win, her only career start to date, was impressive. She was a very well backed 9/4 favourite and cruised through the contest, putting the race to bed early and drawing clear under what I thought was a visibly excited Pat Smullen (this might be nonsense, I just thought that pat after the line was a wow-you’re-good pat).
Alghabrah ran on late for second and was just under two lengths adrift at the line but there were over seven lengths between Contingent and her 16 other rivals as she easily dismissed her field.
Obviously, with just this maiden win to go on, plenty of guesswork is involved. But with the Oaks market as it is, it could be worth chancing this well-bred daughter of Frankel to go all the way to the top.
By Nick Hext
Luis Suarez’s last action at a World Cup was his infamous nibble of Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini back in 2014.
The Uruguay striker ended up with a four-month suspension from all football-related activity after that bite and he never played for Liverpool again.
Barcelona stumped up around £75million for Suarez during the summer of 2014 and the striker’s stock has risen back up during his three-and-a-half-year stint in LaLiga.
The current campaign hasn’t been a vintage one for Suarez so far but he’s still hit double-figures to help Barca pull clear at the LaLiga summit.
My tip for Suarez looks to this summer’s World Cup after Uruguay were handed a favourable draw.
Uruguay are in Group A, which looks the weakest of the eight sections, along with hosts Russia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
The South Americans are the even-money favourites to finish top and that gives Suarez a great chance to get his tournament up and running in style.
It’s likely to be Spain or Portugal in the last 16 so the quality of opposition will increase but I still really like Suarez at 28/1 to end up with the World Cup’s coveted Golden Boot.
You don’t need me to tell you that Suarez is a proven top-level performer and I find it odd that the 30-year-old is a decent stretch down the list of contenders given his side's draw.
Five goals will more than likely be enough to get an each-way payout in the first four places of the Golden Boot standings and Suarez more than fits the bill to get amongst the leading scorers.
Uruguay team-mate Edinson Cavani (33/1) bagged more goals in qualifying but I’m going with the redemption story for Suarez to make the headlines this summer for all the right reasons.
Given recent reports of Andy Murray’s fitness, or lack thereof, 15/8 about him finishing outside the top four (Paddy Power) looks awfully good for those happy to back such prices in a long-term market.
However, we generally look for bigger quotes in this column and so I’ve plumped for the talented Frenchman Lucas Pouille to finish in the top eight in 2018.
Undoubtedly the future of French tennis, Pouille was the man who clinched his nation’s first Davis Cup in 16 years in November – and we’ve seen before how success in that competition can propel you to greater things the following year. Think Novak Djokovic after leading Serbia to victory in 2010 and Murray following Great Britain’s 2015 triumph.
Both men ended the following season ranked number one in the world and while I’m not suggesting that will happen with Pouille, he can crack the top eight.
He’s finished 15th and 18th in his last two seasons. Slipping back in 2017 wasn’t in his plan but I doubt he’ll struggle in the big events like he has done over the past 12 months.
Pouille’s best Grand Slam result was a last-16 appearance (at the US Open), while in the Masters events he made one semi and lost in the first or second round on five occasions.
Given those stats, it won’t take a huge improvement for him to push higher up the rankings and it should be remembered he would still have reached the season-ending ATP Finals for the year’s best players had he won his final event of the year, the Paris Masters.
What is particularly encouraging for this bet is the injury woes which currently hang around the tour like a bad smell.
Murray’s hip issue remains - a full six months since it forced him to shut up shop. Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori, who have all had long-term problems, have already pulled out of their first scheduled appointments of the season. And reports also suggest that Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are far from 100 per cent ahead of the new campaign. None of those six is available at bigger than 5/4.
Pouille has the talent to take advantage of such issues and I don’t feel Sky Bet’s 8/1 quote accurately reflects his chance in this market.
By Ben Coley
The Masters is the first of golf's four majors and also its most iconic, factors which explain why it takes more than its share of the ante-post focus as we await the return of some of the world's best players over the coming weeks.
But it's the US Open which might offer the best punting opportunity in the here and now, with Patrick Reed taken to enjoy a first competitive trip to the brutal Shinnecock Hills and land at least a place at 80/1.
Reed has a seriously good record in New York, where this year's second major takes place, and his dynamite short-game will be an enormous advantage at a course whose greens were faster than glass in 2004.
While 2017 was ultimately disappointing, given that Reed failed to win and dropped form the world's top 10 to his current perch of 24th, it did provide his best major finish as the fiery Texan took second in the US PGA.
He has weekend final-group experience in the US Open courtesy of Chambers Bay a couple of years ago - a course so barren as to share something in common with Shinnecock - and knows he needs to return to his best to compete with those he's behind in the current Ryder Cup standings.
While there are many more likely winners, at the odds an each-way play on Reed makes plenty of appeal given that he could be really well-suited to the course and continues to operate at a consistently high level.
By David John
In a world that seems increasingly satisfied only by immediate gratification, we won’t have to wait too long to see if my bet recommendation comes to fruition as we head towards the conclusion of another NFL season.
New England’s showdown at Pittsburgh in week 15 lived up to all the hype with a dramatic finish as the Patriots snuck back to Boston with a narrow victory which kept them on track to take the top seeding in the AFC heading into the post-season.
That will mean both a bye week and the road to the Super Bowl passing through Foxboro so they are odds-on across the board to represent their conference in Minnesota in February.
I am tempted to take them on though with the conquered Steelers and 3/1 for them to be crowned AFC champions looks more than fair.
The recent game at Heinz Field against Tom Brady and company came down to the very last play and it is no fluke that time and again New England come out on top thanks to their fastidious preparation under head coach Bill Belichick for most, if not all, eventualities.
The tiniest movement of the ball in the hands of Jesse James had earlier seen what seemed to be Pittsburgh’s game-winning touchdown taken off the scoreboard while the hosts had played a good chunk of the game without leading wide receiver Antonio Brown due to a partially torn calf muscle – he is expected to be fit once the play-offs come around.
It all adds up to there being little more than a bounce of the ball between New England and Pittsburgh and I would not be the slightest bit surprised to see the Steelers gain some revenge when it really counts next month – be that on their own patch or up in Boston.
A winner-take-all match-up once again for the AFC Championship would be tremendous and the Steelers can win it this time – the pair still look a class apart from the chasing pack headed by an upstart Jacksonville.
By Dave Tickner
Always underrated in the short formats, white-ball specialists Northants once again look like a team well worth backing ante-post for the T20 Blast.
They make canny overseas signings for this event and always seem to punch above their weight, while star man Ben Duckett looks likely to be available for the whole summer with any England call-up unlikely after his winter exploits with the Lions.
Northants have been to three of the last five finals, winning two of them, but are perennially listed below more fashionable but far less successful clubs in the betting. Expect the Steelbacks to be there or thereabouts once more at a nice price.