Horse racing fans are getting twitchy. The biggest jump meetings of the season are finally upon us and dedicated followers are beginning to put their money where their mouth is.
The Cheltenham Festival in March attracts around 220,000 visitors over four days who will bet more than £500 million.
Then there’s The Grand National. The four day meeting at Aintree in Liverpool attracts crowds from all over the world but it’s the famous race on April 11 that is the big draw.
Forty horses take on the four-and-a-half mile course in what’s described as the ultimate test of agility, bravery and stamina. Along the way they will overcome 30 fences so challenging that they have become famous in their own right – Becher’s Brook, The Chair, Canal Turn.
For many people, it’s the only time they’ll ever have a flutter and they’ll be waving their precious betting slip at the telly as they cheer their favourites on. Picked for the name or the colour or because the jockey is a famous face, backing a horse in the National is a time honoured tradition in many families.
But for others it’s a serious business. Speculation over who might win the 2015 Grand National began as soon as 25/1 shot Pineau de Rae galloped first past the post in last year’s race.
Serious punters have been following the form for the last 12 months. Many will have already made their predictions and placed a few antepost bets to get an early price that will no doubt add some extra value to their betting slip – should they win of course.
But most people will make their choices on the day. If you’ve never been to the races, it can be a daunting process.
Do your homework before you get to the course.
In the run up to the National, grab a copy of the Racing Post and read up on the horses and trainers for the big race.
Online bookmakers like bet365 give a handy Grand National preview of the runners, riders and trainers including up to the minute news of changes in form that might impact on your selection.
Tracking the odds is another good way of assessing whether other people are backing a horse because they think it’s in with a chance.
But don’t follow the crowd. Only five favourites have won in the last 20 years and, as recently as 2009, bookies were left aghast after 100-1 shot Mon Mome was victorious. Study the form, but go with your gut.
On race day, narrow down the field to a shortlist of your favourite selections taking into account the condition of the ground and any last minute whispers from pundits and racing experts.
Spend time at the parade ring analysing your picks. Look for a spring in their step and a desire to get off and get going.
Finally, don’t be afraid to pick more than one horse. You could even consider a trifecta and pick the first three horses to win in the correct order. Or a reverse trifecta which pays out regardless of the order they come as long as they’re the first three.
Or, on second thoughts, maybe you should just keep things simple, given that it’s your first time out.