Photograph by Paolo Camera
With Christmas and New Year done and dusted, it’s time to look ahead to 2015 and predict what the year holds in store.
Who will triumph in the General Election? What will they call the new royal baby? And, most significantly, who will win the Grand National?
It may not be run until April 11, but trainers are already preparing their horses for the most gruelling event in the horse racing calendar.
Forty horses will tackle the four-and-a-half mile course, overcoming 30 of the most challenging obstacles along the way. Not for nothing is the National known as the ultimate test in agility, bravery and stamina.
It’s a race that has captured the hearts of the nation and the world. Around 600 million people are gripped by the Aintree action as it unfolds on screens across the globe.
In Britain, thousands of us will gather round the nearest telly with a mug of tea in one hand and a pink betting slip in the other.
For a few breath-taking minutes we can allow ourselves to believe that the mud-spattered jockey who is first past the post will be riding our 500-1 long shot.
Rather than picking a famous rider, such as Tony McCoy, most of us will stick a pin in the paper on the day or simply choose a runner with a quirky name.
It’s a fair strategy as the Grand National has a well-earned reputation as something of a lottery.
Only five favourites have won in the last 20 years and, in 2009, a glorious victory by 100-1 shot Mon Mome left pundits stunned.
But there’s no harm in putting in a bit of effort to try and pick a winner. And now is the time to do your homework and give yourself the edge.
From the minute last year’s race was won by 25/1 shot Pineau De Re, those in the know began whispering about who to watch out for in 2015. Bookies began taking bets quicker than you can say: “Stewards’ Inquiry”.
But it is only now, when a series of Grand National trial races are run, that the true favourites begin to emerge. Make sure you follow the latest news and developments online to make sure your bet on the Grand National is more than just a lucky punt.
Websites run by established bookmakers will give you information about the horses’ form, injuries and even the success or otherwise of individual yards. And keeping an eye on the betting market will help you work out which horses are best fancied in the run up to the big race.
Mobile betting apps that you can download to your smart phone or tablet offer great features like stats, form guides and the latest horse racing news.
Look for apps that are simple to use and offer free bets. Sky Bet and William Hill guarantee best odds while Paddy Power is famous for its money back specials.
On the day, you can’t do better than Channel 4’s Horse Tracker app which was launched last year. The app allows viewers to track the speed and position of the horses during the Grand National and other races over the three-day Liverpool meeting. Live race information is synchronised with Channel 4’s television coverage so that users can easily track the horses they are most interested in.
The app lets you see the position of your horse, how close it is to the horse in front and how far it’s got to run to the finish. Basically, it takes out a lot of the guesswork when you’re watching the race live, cheering loudly and listening out for the fast-talking commentator to mention your horse’s name.