Our team provide their best antepost bets for 2020, including a Value Bet in the Oaks, a well-known villain in the US Open, and plenty more besides.
Suggesting a bet on the 2020 Flat season at Christmas isn’t easy, as there are only about five races to bet on and this year’s two-year-old monster, Pinatubo, is a relatively short-priced favourite for two of them.
So I make no apologies, just excuses, for targeting the Investec Oaks again with the long-range festive cash.
It’s a race I like to bet on in advance because you might just pick out a 4/1 favourite at 50s with a bit of foresight and a lot of luck and that’s certainly the aim this year with FRANKLY DARLING the suggestion.
This daughter of Frankel (how did you guess?) has only raced the once and she was beaten, but she shaped very well on heavy ground at Yarmouth when travelling the best before going down only to Roger Varian’s Cabaletta over a mile.
Trained by John Gosden and owned by Anthony Oppenheimer, she’s with the right connections for a Classic tilt and it’s interesting they chose that Yarmouth novice stakes for her debut.
In 2018 the same Yarmouth novice split into two divisions. Oppenheimer’s Frankellina (the daughter of Our Obsession, a half-sister to Frankly Darling) won one of them, and Gosden’s Mehdaayih won the other.
Both these daughters of Frankel enhanced their Oaks chances at trials in the spring, something I hope Frankly Darling will do, before finishing sixth and seventh at Epsom as another Gosden-trained daughter of Frankel, Anapurna, landed the Classic.
Frankly Darling is bred to be good and bred for a trip, and while Oppenheimer’s Star Catcher, trained by Gosden, took the Ribblesdale route last season, that was probably because her owner had Frankellina and her trainer had several other Oaks options.
A 50s, she’s worth a speculative poke.
JACK LISOWSKI's recent defeat in the final of the Scottish Open means that he, and we, are still waiting for the breakthrough success that his rich talent has long promised.
A fearsome long potter who is a brilliant watch when in the balls, Lisowski hits the ball so crisply that it defies belief that he is still without a ranking tournament win having now reached three finals without tasting success.
Despite a level of natural ability that has seen him draw comparisons with Ronnie O’Sullivan, Lisowksi’s game has appeared to lack the craft and nous needed to win at the highest level and against the very best.
Nevertheless, he is maturing all the time and the fact his previously much-maligned safety game was able to compete with a brilliant tactician like Mark Selby for large periods of their Glasgow final bodes very well.
It suggests an evolving player and also confirms that Lisowski’s decision to change cues only a few weeks ago is one that will pay fruitful dividends in the future.
It might take most players more than a few weeks to get used to such a major change but such is the scale of Lisowski’s natural ability, he has been able to adjust in a matter of weeks, and with his confidence buoyed and his game clearly heading in the right direction, a bold show at The Masters in January appears highly likely.
He certainly won’t fear a first-round meeting with an out-of-sorts Kyren Wilson and with Stuart Bingham or Mark Williams to follow – both short of results of late – the path for a deep run is about as clear as it can be in an event as competitive as this.
Just as has been the case with close friend Judd Trump, Lisowski would be right to hope that his best years will come as he approaches 30 and the evidence from the table would certainly hint that he is very close to finally fulfilling his immense potential.
With all that in mind, 40/1 for Masters glory is an offer too good to turn down.
The same big teams have dominated the last three decades of the FA Cup with Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool winning 25 of the last 31, but this year a brand new name can be etched on the famous old trophy.
Holders and favourites Manchester City are the ones to beat, although they are looking more vulnerable this season, while Liverpool haven’t won this for 12 years and obviously have bigger fish to fry.
Chelsea, Arsenal and United are all ahead of them in the betting, but I’d take LEICESTER against all three of those teams and 16/1 on the Foxes is the value bet.
Brendan Rodgers’ side have already proved what they can do this season, and while winning the title looks a little out of reach, they’ve got a healthy advantage in the top-four race. With no European football to distract them they can focus on the league and this trophy, as well as the Carabao Cup where they've reached the semi-finals.
The draw is crucial, as always, but it's been kind so far with a home game against Wigan on the first weekend of the new year. Providing a likely weakened side can get through that, there's no reason the Foxes can't go a long way.
Anyone with a freakishly good memory will realise the start of this is pretty much a copy and paste job from my entry into last year’s Best Bets column, except every mention of ‘world championship’ has been changed to ‘Olympics’.
I predict that next summer, DINA ASHER-SMITH will become Britain’s first ever female 100m Olympic champion.
A few days later she will then become Britain’s first ever 200m Olympic champion - male or female – and therefore the first British sprinter ever to win the double.
Of course, Asher-Smith has already made history this year when storming to world gold over the longer distance - the first Britain ever to do so - having also won a silver in the 100m, which no female from this country had ever managed before.
The closest we’ve ever come to having a female 100m or 200m champion at Olympic level are silver medals in the 1948 London Games (Dorothy Manley in the 100m and Audrey Williamson in the 200m) and 1960 Olympics (Dorothy Hyman in the 200m).
We now know for sure that Asher-Smith, who won a European hat-trick of golds in 2018, is capable of both at the highest level, and if she does the above then the SPOTY crown will be hers.
Given his firepower and upward trajectory in general, it could be a matter of time before Colin Tizzard trains the Grand National winner and, with a bit of luck, he could be seriously well represented come April.
The likes of Native River, Elegant Escape and Robinsfirth are all likely to be pointed that way but the one who stands out as a very interesting type is MISTER MALARKY.
You’ve got to go back to 1940 for the last seven-year-old National winner but three eight-year-olds have taken top spot inside the past five years and, given the recent developments to the race, it’s clearly not quite the gruelling test it once was.
Tiger Roll carrying top weight from a mark of 170-odd should be exciting as he goes for a third straight win, although it really will open things up nicely for progressive, young, second-season chasers like Mister Malarky.
He’s going to find himself somewhere near the foot of the weights in all likelihood (chase mark at the time of writing 148) and he should be dangerous given some of his form last term, which wasn’t too far off the best around in the novice division.
He won the Grade Two Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot last February from Now McGinty before finishing fourth in a warm edition of the RSA Chase at Cheltenham and signing off with a fine second to Kildisart in an open handicap.
It was a very decent campaign all told, winning three times and gaining plenty of experience along the way, while he consigned his Ascot comeback effort firmly to the past when sixth in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury before another poor run in Berkshire on awful ground over the weekend.
He plugged on in quite encouraging fashion in that Newbury contest, where the cheekpieces appeared to have a positive effect, and it’s hoped he can get back on track and rise through the ranks before the Aintree weights are published in early February.
Mister Malarky is out to 100/1 in places now and looks a sporting wager to head into the New Year with a spring in the step.
He's quite rightly golfing enemy number one right now, but that should only serve to make 2020 a big year for PATRICK REED.
The former Masters champion was penalised for what I can only call cheating at the start of December, but with the Presidents Cup right on the heels of that incident the PGA Tour bottled the job of punishing him properly.
Reed escaped with just a two-shot penalty and the reputational damage is unlikely to bother a player who has long revelled in acting the villain, creating a tight circle and making few friends on the professional circuit.
If the episode does hurt him, it'll be seen in Ryder Cup selection, but Reed being Reed it's likely that he makes sure he removes that potential obstacle by qualifying for the team.
To do so will likely require some strong major performances, and the standout 80/1 that he wins the US Open is plain wrong, a comment which also applies to the more general 66/1.
Reed, who won the Masters two years ago and won a FedEx Cup Playoff event in August, is a far more prolific winner, and a more capable player in general, than everyone around him in the market.
How he's twice the price of Francesco Molinari, I've absolutely no idea. Reed is now in front of the Italian in the world rankings and there are just 11 players above him at the time of writing. He's around 25th in the betting for the US Open.
Matt Wallace is the same price with bet365, as is a fading Sergio Garcia. They rate Brandt Snedeker (world number 47) a more likely winner by a distance, and they rate Graeme McDowell's chances the same. McDowell is outside the world's top 100; Reed is a good week from its top 10.
Why this event specifically? Because he contended for it when last playing a US Open in New York, and he's got two wins from just a handful of starts in New York and New Jersey. He thrives in front of crowds known to be among the most vocal around. When last the US Open came to Winged Foot, some of the world's best scramblers battled it out for the title. Reed is one of them.
Followers should note that I did tip Reed for that US Open in New York in 2018 at a similar price. He went on to win the Masters first before hitting the frame at Shinnecock. Having done that to prove he can win majors, and returned to his best recently, I have no idea what he's doing so far down the market. He's twice the price he should be.
We have another summer of football to look forward to with Euro 2020 taking place across the continent and England, for once, start the year as favourites to lift the trophy.
But one nation going quietly about their business is ITALY, and they look the value at around 14/1.
Managed by Roberto Mancini, the four-time World Cup winners have a favourable group draw with Switzerland, Turkey and Wales, and start 2020 on a 14-game unbeaten streak.
The Azzurri had a perfect qualifying campaign with 10 wins from 10 and conceded just four goals in the process, results more in keeping with their traditions.
Whether they can do it against the big boys remains to be seen, but there are reasons for encouragement.
They have one of the world’s best goalkeepers in Gianluigi Donnarumma and the experience of captain Leonardo Bonucci in the heart of defence; in midfield, Jorginho pulls the strings, while there are plenty of options in attack even in the absence of a really big name.
A nice mixture of youth and experience, they look to have a better chance than the odds suggest and are likely to be talked up as the tournament approaches. Take the price before that happens.
The decision to switch the Vertem Futurity to Newcastle once heavy rain had washed away Doncaster’s fixture was to be applauded. It surely strengthened the view that significant Group races could be added to the all-weather calendar, particularly with the surface at Gosforth Park hailed by trainers up and down the land.
Kameko floated over it to run out a very taking winner of the highest profile race to be staged on an artificial surface in this country. His breeding suggested he would. For MOGUL, it was an altogether different story.
A 3.4m son of Gaileo, he’s a full-brother to Japan and closely related to Sir Isaac Newton and Secret Gesture. Everything about him screams a mile-and-a-half, turf, and Epsom.
He ran ok in the Vertem, finishing fourth, having been bumped early and forced to race wider than ideal. It was a race for his connections to draw a line through and get ready for the spring.
For that’s when we’ll see him return, possibly in the Ballysax or Derrinstown Stud Trials. Aidan O’Brien has tried and tested paths to Epsom for his best three-year-olds and this powerful colt will be put on one of them.
Ahead of him in the ante-post market for the Derby are his Newcastle conqueror, who is exciting but far from certain stay beyond ten furlongs and his best turf performances are some way below that November effort, and Pinatubo.
The latter was the champion two-year-old and some way clear of the rest of a very good crop. But he was precocious, very precocious, and fast. He’ll stay the mile of a Guineas but there have to be serious doubts over whether he’s going to stretch out to middle-distances.
Mogul is crying out for them. He’s in the right hands and it will be no surprise to see him heading the Derby market as the trials begin in earnest through April and May.
This time last year I tipped Wales to win the Six Nations, which came in, so I'm returning to the same tournament for further success in 2020. A potential World Cup final hangover is a fear for ENGLAND, but Japan was the next chapter in this side’s story, rather than the end of the book as it was for Ireland and Wales, and they should win the Six Nations in 2020.
Ireland are basically starting again with a new coach who has to dismantle an ageing and over the hill squad. Meanwhile France and Wales also new coaches, who will be embedding new ideas and you'd feel it will take time for their troops to adjust to new ways.
England are the only team with continuity and momentum with the same boss n Eddie Jones, while only a few players will be cast aside. The Red Rose host Wales and Ireland, which is always an advantage, so as long as the don't slip up in their opening games against France - who will be strong in the next two tournaments I believe - and Scotland away, then they should be expecting a clear sweep.
They're a short price for the Grand Slam, but it is absolutely justified and it'll be disappointing if they don't put the disappointment of World Cup final defeat behind them by winning all five matches - likely with plenty to spare.
They've been a little shaky in the Bundesliga, but BAYERN MUNICH can land the Champions League this spring.
Six wins from six in the group stage, 24 goals, 150 shots... nobody is better in attack in all of Europe, and under Hans Flick - who will remain coach until at least the end of the season - things are looking up.
There would be no better way for Flick to advertise his ability when it comes to getting the job permanently than to win Europe's top club competition, and the Germans are fancied to have too much nous for Chelsea when they meet in the last 16.
With one of Real Madrid and Man City on their way out, as well as one of Atletico and Liverpool plus Dortmund and PSG, Bayern can enter the quarter-finals as leading contenders.