The race to acquire the S&N pub estate, which was effectively put on the market yesterday, has begun, with the name of Hugh Osmond, the UK leisure industry entrepreneur, already tipped as a favourite to clinch a possible £2.5 billion deal.

Osmond was unsuccessful in his efforts to buy hotel and pub operator Six Continents earlier in the year.

Other names already mentioned in conjunction with a bid include Pubmaster, backed by the Rotch property group and investment bank WestLB, and Laurel Pub Company. Pub company Mitchells & Butlers is also believed to be interested.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times reported that Japanese bank Nomura International is likely to bid for the S&N business. Financial buyer Terra Firma is also looking at the sale, the report said.