Odds on: Frontrunners in the race to replace James Caan on Dragons' Den

The word trickling out the BBC TV studios is the new Dragon will be a woman. And Ladbrokes has just announced its odds for Caan's replacement. Here's our introduction to and opinions on which of the five entrepreneurs with the shortest odds are likeliest to make the final cut.

1. Simply the breast: Michelle Mone - 5/1

Glasgow-born Mone is best known for founding bust-boosting lingerie brand Ultimo. She's a true grafter: she left school at 15 with no qualifications (much like Theo Paphitis), shooting up the ranks of Labatt Brewers to become head of sales and marketing by age 20. She founded Ultimo in 1996 and has since won more enterprise awards than we've got room to list here. Few a female entrepreneur would so openly display their assets across the nation as Michelle did when she became the face of Ultimo last year, but the willingness to share does bode well for a stint in the Den, and we salute her gutsiness.

Mone on the Den: Despite last year refuting rumours she'd join the show and calling it 'really boring', Mone has now launched a fully-fledged campaign to join the Den after her Twitter followers said she should. Last week she tweeted: "Thanks for all your messages and support. I'm blown away. If I commit to something my heart has to be 100 per cent in it. Let's see if it's meant to be."

Smarta's verdict: With those fighting words and Mone's clear drive, we wouldn't be surprised if she wangles her way in sharpish.

2. Whipping the Den into shape: Jacqueline Gold - 5/1

The daughter of a porn publishing and sex shop supremo was never going to end up pushing paper in Slough. So it's no great surprise that Gold happily took up the reins of family business Ann Summers, that high street doyen of sex toys and kinky lingerie, and Knickerbox. She transformed dad David Gold's up-market sex shop Ann Summers back in the 70s, age 21, when she realised the brand would benefit from being more women-centric and from selling toys to people within their own homes. As the 16th richest woman in the UK, she's certainly got the cash to splash, but could the usually demure Den handle the kinkiness of her cut and thrust?

What she's said about the Den in bygone years: "With programmes such as The Apprentice and Dragons' Den there is a message that you have to be aggressive to be successful. It creates a blame culture, and I think it stifles creativity." Ouch. But could she change all that?

Smarta verdict: There's no doubt Gold is a business whiz - Ann Summers boasts £150m annual revenue. But could inheriting a family business rather than proving the entrepreneurial mettle of starting from scratch work against her? We'll soon see.

3. Well-heeled: Tamara Mellon - 7/1

Mellon co-founded Jimmy Choo, the shoe label stiletto-lovers most coo over, along with Mr Jimmy Choo back in 1996, having previously been accessories editor for British Vogue. She has built the brand into a red carpet staple that spans more than 32 countries. She did, however, get private equity backing to buy Mr Jimmy Choo out the business, which Smarta has heard from the horse's mouth he now gets no royalties from or share of and deeply regrets.

Smarta verdict: Mellon obviously has business in her sole, sorry, soul, but does she actually want to be a Dragon? She certainly doesn't seem to have taken up TV opportunities as much as others on this shortlist, so we doubt Dragons' Den is on her to-do list.

4. A sucker for great inventions: James Dyson - 8/1

Dyson is the nation's best-known living inventor, whose eponymous company apparently files a new patent every day. Each new vacuum cleaner, hand dryer and fan he brings out creates instant buzz, and his willingness to appear in Dyson adverts show he's not camera shy. With a reported net worth of £1.1bn, he'd also be the richest of the Dragons and, we're fairly sure, the wealthiest on this shortlist.

Smarta verdict: Dyson got into engineering because he found art school unedifying, and he's been doggedly, non-stop designing and inventing ever since (the first Dual Cyclone hoover took more than 5,000 prototypes to fine-tune). We suspect he'd be too wrapped up in his latest gadget-crafting to devote any time to becoming a Dragon.

5. Hot property: Sarah Beeny - 9/1

Beeny is a bit of a one-woman wonder. Not only has she mastered prime time TV, gracing our screens on Channel 4's Property Ladder, she's set up property website Tepilo.com (in 2009) and dating website MySingleFriend.com (2007) around her TV commitments. That's just the kind of multi-tasking nous that appearing on Dragons' Den while managing businesses requires.

Smarta verdict: Beeny would certainly pass the screen test, and she's doubtless entrepreneurial. But her businesses aren't nearly as mature as others in the shortlist, and we think she might be a tads too early-stage herself to become a fully fledged Dragon.

And here are Ladbrokes odds in full:

Michelle Mone - 5/1
Jacqueline Gold - 5/1
Tamara Mellon - 7/1
James Dyson - 8/1
Sarah Beeny - 9/1
Martha Lane Fox 12/1
Luke Johnson - 16/1
Gordon Ramsay 33/1
Michael O'Leary 33/1
Stelios Haji-Ioannou 33/1
Philip Green - 33/1
Richard Branson 40/1
Levi Roots - 50/1
Simon Cowell - 66/1
Andrew Lloyd-Webber - 80/1
Clive Sinclair - 100/1

Who do you think the next Dragon will be? Share your views in comments below.

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