SPORTS BETTING: Hunter's easy ride can fox the bookmakers

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The Independent Online
Paul Hunter, an improving young snooker player who looks well favoured in the easier half of the draw, is simply crying out to be backed at 80-1 with Ladbrokes for the UK Championships which start at the Preston Guild Hall this week. The Tote, whose odds compiler is the snooker expert Tim Pickering, significantly offer just 25-1 about Hunter, who has a tasty- looking first round draw against Nick Walker.

After that, he has a relatively clear run through to the final 16, from which point he is on course to meet the likes of Ken Doherty and John Parrot, both of whom he is easily capable of defeating if at the top of his game.

Stephen Hendry, the 2-1 favourite with the Tote, and for many the Arkle of snooker, has yet to show his best form this season. John Higgins, playing reasonably well of late, looks a better option at 9-2 with Ladbrokes for those disinclined to take a chance on an outsider.

Ronnie O'Sullivan, who has all the speed and flair of a Jimmy White and an Alex Higgins and, when in control of his game, has also shown flashes of the sort of safety play acumen which can win world championships, is potentially a massive price at 8-1 with Ladbrokes but remains unreliable. Dominic Dale, who has been making a name for himself, appeals as the best of the other outsiders at 80-1 with the Tote.

Looking ahead to the weekend football, the perceived wisdom that Italy will outclass Russia in the more clement conditions of their home second leg of their World Cup finals play-off might prove wide of the mark. The Russians have several gifted players and it would come as no surprise to see them boot the Azzurri out. And another shock could be in the offing when Croatia take their first-leg lead to the Ukraine. Their hosts are capable of winning by a sufficient margin to book their tickets for France 98 and promise to be good value with the bookmakers to do so.

UK SNOOKER CHAMPIONSHIPS: Paul Hunter 80-1 (Ladbrokes), 25-1 (Tote); Stephen Hendry 2-1(T); John Higgins 9-2 (L); Ronnie O'Sullivan 8-1 (L); Dominic Dale 80-1 (T).

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