While the Aintree Grand National is not "the race that stops the nation" as the Melbourne Cup is to Australians, where the whole country enjoys a national holiday... it certainly comes close. This is the race that makes the entire year for the UK's bookmakers, with the result vital to their bottom line profitability. It's a race that sees practically every adult in the country getting involved, with the famously big fences and extreme distance (four miles four furlongs) making for an incredible spectacle.
As the racing editor at bettingexpert.com, it is also a time when every single great Aunt, cousin, former school bully, pizza delivery boy and neighbour seems to think that due to my "inside knowledge" I will somehow "know" the winner. Every Grand National day the texts, phone calls and messages come flooding in as the search for a "hot tip" begins around 7am, and every year the disappointment that follows when the selection falls at the first is palpable.
It truly is a wide open handicap (each horse is allotted a weight to carry to try and equalise their varying abilities), and any of the forty runners these days hold realistic claims. No longer are hopelessly outclassed "rags" allowed to run, meaning the standard generally is much higher. The formerly formidable fences are much safer than in years gone by, with significant adjustments made to lessen their height and stiffness, and recent winners at 100-1 and 33-1 show just how competitive and open this race has become.
This year the race is extra special because it marks the retirement of the 19 time champion A.P. McCoy, who has dominated the sport like no other with his super-human strength and toughness. He is set to ride the well backed favourite Shutthefrontdoor, who seems certain to be sent off a heavily punted and grossly underpriced market leader, as a sentimental public piles a deluge of cash on him. Bookmaker shareholders need not get too nervous however, as he may well lack the required stamina for this extreme test and has no experience at all over the Aintree fences.
So with Shutthefrontdoor ruled out in terms of betting value, what five factors does the astute punter need to consider when making a bet on the Grand National?
#1 - The Going
The first consideration is always the ground and it is imperative for the National. Keep an eye out for horses with previous winning form on decent ground (and bare in mind the past six months of racing have been largely run on "soft" or "heavy" ground). Runners who traditionally do well in the spring and summer are worth following this time around, with the surface expected to be "good" or "good to soft" at worst.
#2 - The Run Style
Some horses are best suited to dominating from the start, attacking every fence with a clear site at it and stringing out their rivals in behind. This is particularly tricky in the National, with plenty of competition on for the lead and an overly fast gallop happening more often than not. Check out for horses that are "held up" and come through late on as these have a good record around Aintree.
#3 - The Price And Place Terms
Try to find horses at odds above 10-1 but no bigger than 33-1 and back them each way (win and a place) while seeking out a bookmaker who is offering up favourable place terms. In recent times some of the internet operators have offered each way 1/4 the odds on the first six places rather than the traditional four. So hunt around for the best value on offer.
#4 - Assured Stamina
The Grand National is run over one of the longest trips in the racing calendar (four and a half miles) and horses that have proven form over marathon distances tend to do well again and again in this race. So often you see the high class stayers with form around three miles come there cantering at the canal turn but do not see out the trip, so hunt for those who have been there and done it before.
#5 - Trainer And Jockey Form
Back an experienced jockey riding for one of the bigger stables who are in top form. Despite Dr Richard Newland striking a blow for smaller stables when Pineau de Re won in 2014, this race tends to go to those with the best firepower and ability to get one ready for the big day.
Whichever horse your back on race day, good luck and enjoy this year's Grand National.