Sport on the Internet

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The Independent Online
GRAND NATIONAL week sees once-a-year gamblers queuing up to hand over chunks of their disposable income to the bookies. Ignorance and superstition are the traditional guiding factors behind the annual flutter, but with the Web, even the most casual punter can get clued up before Saturday's race.

For background on the race and the course, Aintree Racecourse Website is the source of all official knowledge. For the three days of the meeting it will be running a dedicated news, results and quotes service. Up now are news stories and archives from the past four years.

It is strong on trying to win physical rather than virtual visitors. One way it does that is by singing the praises of a new visitor centre where seeing Red Rum's grave and walks around the course are on offer.

There is also a virtual reality ride based on footage from last year's race captured by cameras on jockeys' helmets.

If they did an on-line version of that, running in a browser window, site traffic would rocket. As it is, cyber visitors have to make do with the merchandise page where mugs, books, gifts, clothes etc can be bought on-line.

If you are tempted by the offer of an official Grand National baseball cap (one size fits all) for under a tenner, fire up your modem.

The devotion felt towards race horses runs deep. Legends Of The Turf is a site devoted to the celebration of legendary horses from the past, Red Rum and Desert Orchid, and the present. The front page is a gallery of photographs of famous horses in action over the sticks.

Clicking on the thumbnail of, for example, last year's National winner, Earth Summit, brings up a larger picture with a fact file detailing the horse's breeding, trainer, owner, form, big race wins and a collection of quotes, stats and anecdotes. Suny Bay and Nathen Lad are other entrants for this year's race to get the equine hero- worship treatment.

For those in search of form guides there are on-line options. Places to bet, too, which is good news for anyone living in countries such as the United States where it is illegal to pick up the phone and place a bet.

National Hunt On The Net is one such message and resource site for punters. It offers previews and reviews of top meetings such as the Grand National. It also offers links to on-line bookies and form guides such as Superform, a subscription service that tracks performances and rates a runner's likely chances on any given racecard.

Those new to the game, however, are probably best relying on the hot tips passed down from the Independent's racing desk - an easier option than mastering the technicalities of form and more scientific than choosing the nicest coloured horse or sticking a pin in a list.

Site Addresses

Aintree - 1999 Grand National

http://www.aintree.co.uk/

Legends Of The Turf

http://www-users.york.ac.uk/sjp22/hunt.htm

National Hunt On The Net

http://www.winning-post.com/

Superform

http://www.superform.com/

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