England takes on the world - but don't bet on it

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The Independent Online
GREG WOOD

The last time they ran the Derby on a Saturday, Lester Piggott was 16 years old and off-course bookmakers were breaking the law. In the 43 years since, both have enjoyed huge success, but while Piggott will watch today's race from a hospitality tent, the bookies, now a high-street fixture, will be cheering yet another winner.

The Derby's switch from Wednesday to Saturday is expected to increase betting turnover by 25 to 30 per cent. "We took pounds 8m on the race last year and are hoping for pounds 10m today," David Hood, of William Hill, said yesterday. "Industry-wide, turnover on the race could be up to pounds 50m."

But the figure is little more than a guess, as is any attempt to predict the size of the crowd which will watch the big race for free from Epsom Downs. The only certainty is that the bookmakers will come out on top, even if Pennekamp, the hot favourite at 6-4, leads the 15 runners home.

Pennekamp, trained in France, is the first challenger into the ring as England takes on the world over the weekend. The rugby union team face Australia (world champions), the footballers play Brazil (world champions) and the cricketers are already up against it in the first Test against the West Indies (recently deposed unofficial world champions).

Again, the betting shops expect plenty of business, with more than pounds 1m expected to be wagered on the rugby match alone. The odds, though, are stacked against English success.

Australia (7-4 on) are favourites to beat England (11-8) in the Rugby World Cup quarter-final in Cape Town tomorrow. The footballers at 9-4 are a longer price to beat the Brazilians (evens) at Wembley on the same day, but the greatest optimists will be those backing the cricketers to fight back against the West Indies at Headingley. Mike Atherton's team hurtled out to 16-1 after a catastrophic morning when they collapsed to 199 all out.

For the blindest of optimists, Rob Hartnett, of Coral, estimates that the current odds of England winning all three events are 66-1.

Sport, pages 21-28

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