The first Strictly Come Dancing competitive shows air this Friday and Saturday. No public vote will take place until the following week, however, to give all the couples at least two bites of the cherry.
Since Chris Hollins’ victory in 2009, the title has gone to the opening night first or second favourite. For value-seeking punters this has meant a slightly frustrating air of predictability about recent results. Many have turned to finding the back-to-lay trade instead, such as Lisa Riley last year.
That may well be the case again this year, as the two market leaders look strong based on the launch show dance and more useful longer clips of initial training that you can watch on the BBC’s Strictly website or use the links below.
Heading up bookmakers’ lists at 5/2 is Coronation Street actress Natalie Gumede. Her admission in the launch show that she danced extensively until the age of 19 and performance in the group number marked her down as this year’s ‘ringer’.
Her professional pairing, Artem, is a formidable teacher and housewives’ favourite. The clip of their initial training did nothing to dispel the feeling that this pair will likely be topping the scoreboard in the early rounds at least.
Next up at 7/2 is Hollyoaks actor Ashley Taylor Dawson, who has also looked relatively accomplished based on what we’ve seen so far. He too has been treated favourably in his professional pairing, another show favourite, Ola Jordan.
Natalie and Ashley represent central characters in flagship shows for the BBC’s two main broadcasting rivals. A prominent run for both is a decent strategy for cementing ratings.
Ashley is one of the few male heart-throbs in this year’s field which looks suspiciously thin on leading men, as if producers are angling to add to only one female victory in the last five years.
To prove the point, it’s largely women who take up the following positions in bookmakers’ lists. BBC newsreader Susanna Reid has form, having done a ballroom skit for Children In Need, but her training clip with professional newbie Kevin indicates she’s as novicey as most.
In betting lists they have leapfrogged Countdown numbers queen Rachel Riley, who looked all at sea in early training with Pasha. The latter is hoping to extend his good run of featuring in each final for his first two years on the show.
Ashley aside, the only other male below 25-1 is Ben Cohen, partnered with Kristina. He is this year’s celebrity beefcake, but compared to previous rugby players turning their hand to ballroom dancing, he looks far less a natural than the likes of Austin Healy, more on a par with Gavin Henson.
Below this there’s a lot of flotsam in the field. Tony Jacklin and Dave Myers look particularly hopeless. Among the women, Deborah Meaden and Vanessa Feltz would also appear to be starting from a low bar. It’s devilishly hard to know at this stage which if any of these will improve significantly. The same can be said for Fiona Fullerton and Julien McDonald.
Those punters eyeing up any back-to-lay value should take a look at Patrick Robinson, who showed promise in his early training clip, and Mark Benton, who has a stint in Hairspray and a fine line in visual comedy in his favour. The pair are 25/1 and 66/1 for the win, but make just as much back-to lay interest in the top male market at 8/1 and 18/1 respectively.
Personally speaking, I’m sitting this one out at the moment. I don’t feel strongly enough to tip anything based on the market as it stands right now, and predicting which of the celebrities emerge for a ‘journey’ is hard going until the shows begin. Do you have any inspiration? Let us know your thoughts below.