How do I read form?

The ability to analyse and interpret horse racing form remains an essential part of the armoury of the serious punter. Even at a basic level, the racecards available in industry publications, such as the ‘Racing Post’, provide valuable insight into the factors commonly involved in determining the outcome of a horse race.

Incontrovertibly, such factors include course, distance, going and class and, on a horse-by-horse basis, jockey, trainer and owner, collectively known as ‘connections’, age, weight and recent form. On a typical racecard, the so-called ‘form figures’ – that is, the series of numbers and/or letters to the left of the name of each horse – provide an at-a-glance synopsis of recent performances. This information, alone, may be sufficient to allow you to start to form opinions on likely outcomes of the race in question, but to make logical, well-reasoned betting decisions, you probably need to delve a little further into the form.

Naturally enough, horse races are won, more often than not, by horses that are attempting little, or nothing, more than they have achieved in the past. A horse that has won or come to close to winning on one or more recent outings, under the same or similar conditions, is already ‘proven’, to some extent, and worthy of closer inspection. Ultimately, you need to convince yourself that a horse not only has the ability to win the race in question, but is fit and ready to do itself justice under the prevailing conditions.

What is the Grand National?

Watched by an estimated worldwide television audience of 600 million, the Grand National is the most famous steeplechase in the world and, as such, requires little introduction. The first ‘official’ running of the Grand National took place at Aintree Racecourse, in Merseyside, North West England, in 1839. Modifications to the course, fences and race conditions mean that the modern incarnation of the celebrated steeplechase is a far cry from those pioneering days but, while the Grand National is a safer proposition than was once the case, it remains the ultimate test of endurance for horse and jockey.

Four-and-a-quarter miles and thirty, idiosyncratic fences – some of which have become famous, or infamous, in their own right – stand between any horse and Grand National glory. Winning the National once is no mean feat, but Red Rum, trained by Donald ‘Ginger’ McCain won an unprecedented three times, in 1973, 1974 and 1977, and finished second in 1975 and 1976. More recently, Tiger Roll, trained by Gordon Elliott, won the National in 2018 and 2019 and was denied the opportunity to complete an equally unprecedented hat-trick when the race was cancelled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Grand National is famously unpredictable and, in 172 runnings, has thrown up five winners at 100/1, four at 66/1, four at 50/1 and seven at 40/1. Perhaps the most famous outsider to win the Grand National was the 100/1 chance Foinavon who, in 1967, took advantage of a pile-up at the twenty-third fence – which now bears his name – to establish an unassailable lead.

How do I place a bet?

Traditionally, placing a bet on horse racing involved visiting a licensed betting shop, in person, writing your selection(s) on a betting slip and handing it, together with your stake money, in cash, to a cashier behind the counter. Placing a bet face-to-face, in this way, remains fairly popular and offers the opportunity to ask a member of staff any questions you may have, which can be reassuring if you are unfamiliar with the workings of a betting shop. Nowadays, licensed betting shops are no longer ‘cash only’ and you can pay your stake money with a debit card, but not a credit card, if you so desire. In return, you’ll receive a copy of your bet, which acts a receipt, which you’ll need to hand back to the cashier to collect your winnings, if your bet is successful.

Of course, the other alternative for stay-at-home punters is to place a bet online, on one of the plethora of bookmakers’ websites. It pays to do some research beforehand, so that you rest assured that your chosen bookmaker is trusted, secure and suitable for your betting needs. Beyond that, registering with an online bookmaker is straightforward; you simply need to provide some basic personal details, a payment method, such as a debit card, and fund your account. To make your selection(s), click on ‘Horse Racing’, click on the appropriate race time and click on the name of the horse, or the odds next to it, to add it to your betting slip. Click the appropriate bet type, enter your stake and click ‘Place Bet’.

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