Britain basks in pounds 50m sporting weekend

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The Independent Online
As the sporting summer swings into high gear today with the start of Euro 96, the Test match, the Derby and the French Open tennis finals, the people wearing the biggest smiles are not likely to be players or spectators but bookmakers, who expect more than pounds 50m to be wagered on the weekend's major action.

"Euro 96 will be Britain's biggest betting event ever, wth over pounds 80m staked on the 31 matches," Ian Wassell of Ladbrokes said. "This weekend alone we expect Britons to wager pounds 50m, including pounds 10m on the football and pounds 25m on the Derby."

The Epsom Classic, which starts at the earlier time of 2.25pm because of the football at Wembley, is as open a betting event this year as it has ever been, with no clear favourite, and no "housewives' choice" either.

It does feature one note of significance, though, with the appearance of Alex Greaves, who becomes the first woman jockey to ride in the race on its 217th running. Her horse, Portugese Lil, is the rank outsider of the field at 1000-1, but bookmakers are dreading the remote possibility that she might actually win. "Imagine, if only 10 punters in each of the country's betting shops invested just pounds 1 on Portugese Lil, the liability will be around pounds 5m," David Hood of William Hill said.

Greaves is likely to attract the once-a-year bets that used to be piled on to anything that Lester Piggott rode, but the former genius of the race has tipped the favourite, Dushyantor, whose trainer, Henry Cecil, saddled Lady Carla, the winner of the fillies' Classic, the Oaks, yesterday.

This is the second year that the Derby has been run on a Saturday, rather than its traditional Wednesday, a controversial move which the bookmakers claim has cost them money. "The race looks particularly exciting this year with so many horses having a winning chance. Having said that, we don't expect the race to achieve the same betting levels as if it were returned to a Wednesday," Wassell said.

In the day's other big betting event, England are understandable favourites to open their Euro 96 campaign with a win against Switzerland at Wembley this afternoon, at 4-6 with Ladbrokes. They are 7-1 for the whole tournament.

"We have taken thousands of bets on each of the 16 teams, but England have been much the best backed," Wassell said. "The biggest so far was a cash bet of pounds 10,000 in a London shop."

Derby special, page 24