Brian Viner: My major chance for revenge on the bookies

I collected handsome winnings but they were Richard Madeley handsome rather than George Clooney handsome
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The Independent Online

The Grand National, the US Masters, the Six Nations, two FA Cup semi-finals, Naseem Hamed's world title defence, the Japanese Grand Prix, Everton v Manchester City ­ next weekend might just be the greatest weekend of sport ever. I have already booked my place on the lower tier of the living-room sofa, with firm instructions not to be disturbed except in the event of nuclear war, and even then it might be worth sitting tight until the starting prices come through (Iraq 11-4 joint-favourites).

The Grand National, the US Masters, the Six Nations, two FA Cup semi-finals, Naseem Hamed's world title defence, the Japanese Grand Prix, Everton v Manchester City ­ next weekend might just be the greatest weekend of sport ever. I have already booked my place on the lower tier of the living-room sofa, with firm instructions not to be disturbed except in the event of nuclear war, and even then it might be worth sitting tight until the starting prices come through (Iraq 11-4 joint-favourites).

The weekend's sporting extravaganza naturally carries major implications for the betting industry. Mike Dillon, of Ladbrokes, tells me that the industry can expect to take as much as £100m ­ £80m on the Grand National meeting alone. And the cluster of so many big events will doubtless encourage punters to look for interesting doubles and trebles.

My own little foible is a double bet on the Grand National and the Masters whenever they fall on the same weekend. And like all punters, as well as all trout fishermen, I reflect with a mixture of pride and frustration on The One That Got Away ­ in my case a double on Durham Edition and Nick Faldo at something like 98-1 back in 1990. Faldo won but Durham Edition was agonisingly pipped into second place, rendering the bet as worthless as if I'd backed Eeyore to win at Aintree and my mate Davey, possibly the worst golfer in the world, to win at Augusta.

As for The Other One That Got Away, two years ago I astutely backed Jose-Maria Olazabal for the Masters and Bobbyjo for the National. Both won, and I collected handsome winnings, but they were Richard Madeley handsome rather than George Clooney handsome, because for some inexplicable reason I had eschewed my usual double in favour of two separate bets.

Still, there's no point crying over torn betting slips, let alone winning ones. As my friend Angus "Statto" Loughran says, the next few days offer a splendid opportunity for the bookies to emulate the barber next door and offer the punter "something for the weekend". For example, the Irish bookmakers Paddy Power, who have shops in the UK, have an interesting offer on the Masters. They will refund your stakes even if your man doesn't win the Green Jacket, but does beat Tiger. In other words, they calculate that the worst Tiger can do is finish second, so they could be in for a costly tournament in the event of the great man missing the cut ­ and let's face it, if he goes down with something slightly debilitating over the next day or two, like leprosy, that just might happen.

Power made the same offer for the recent Tournament Players Championship, which Tiger duly won, although Angus reckons his putting has been below par this year. I didn't have the effrontery to remind him that being below par is generally considered a good thing in golf. Because Angus knows what he's talking about, Tiger-wise, having backed him to win last year's Open Championship five years earlier, at 100-1, when he was nobbut a lad and still an amateur.

For my own money, what's left of it, I reckon Tiger is pretty much unbackable at his present odds of 7-4. I fancy Davis Love III, another form horse who enjoys the track (but, whatever you do, don't back him to win the Grand National). All the same, in golf, rugby, boxing and motor racing especially, it's hard to look past the favourites. So I asked Mike Dillon what price Tiger to win the Masters, England to beat France at Twickenham, Naseem Hamed to retain his title, Michael Schumacher to win at Suzuka, Mely Moss to win the National, and Arsenal to beat Tottenham? The answer was 86-1, which has to be worth a fiver. However, remove the longest shot from that equation, Mely Moss at 7-1, and the odds tumble to 10-1.

For those who don't like mixing their sports, and want to concentrate only on the football, say, there are still all sorts of attractive options. An increasingly popular football bet is the forecast of the correct result and the first player to score, indeed Ladbrokes' shops in the East End of London were comprehensively nutmegged by West Ham's monumental FA Cup victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford. Apparently, quite a few punters seized the tasty 100-1 odds against Paolo Di Canio scoring and West Ham winning 1-0, which is precisely what happened.

But never mind the odds, who will be next weekend's sporting heroes? All things considered, I'm pretty certain that one of them will be a tall, slim, black man wearing a garish Green Jacket and a brilliant smile. That's right, I fully expect Kevin Campbell to spend Saturday night in a Merseyside disco celebrating a hat-trick against City. I might even have a bet on it.

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