The Grand National is the biggest horse race in the annual calendar. It has been built up over the years as the one time when Joe Public will splash his cash at the bookies. Obviously that is great for the bookmakers, but is it good for the seasoned bettor? And if it is, what should you do to make the most of it?

The first way most people will stake a small amount on the National is via a sweepstake in their office or social club, and that is pure chance with no thought given to form or odds.

However, luckily for the more experienced gambler, that is also how many people will part with their tenner on race day. They might like the name, or the colours, or they might have had a friendly tip that will decide their Grand National bets, but the former means more money often going on horses that won't have much of a chance. That means you can find better odds on the ones that do.

The nature of the race at Aintree means that the dead favourite rarely wins – it has happened just 15 times out of the 120 races. It is a handicapped race, which means the in-form horses will have to carry increased weight to even things out, and it is over four miles long. A lot can happen in that time.

If history tells us anything, it's that there are quite specific trends that you can look for to give you an idea on where to most effectively place your hard-earned cash. The favourites winning so infrequently comes as a result of their increased weight and the toll that takes. But the horses with the longest odds have so little chance that even with only a fraction of the handicap you can almost write them off. Pick a good runner but not a favourite, one that has a modest handicap but not enough to disable it for the duration of the run – between 140-160lbs seems optimal.

Also, age is a huge factor. Too young and the discipline and staying power doesn't seem to be there. Too old and they're getting past it, unable to keep the pace for the full race. In the last 29 races, 10 has been the average age of the winner, with nine, 10 and 11-year-old the most common ages for first place. As with all statistics, there can be anomalies but that's where the safer money is.

Finally, and arguably most importantly, it's vital that you check whether your horse has the capabilities to do the distance and whether they've had any success there. That might seem obvious but with the amount of money the bookmaker's rake in every Grand National day, it can't be that obvious. There are simply so many people backing horses without a hope! It's pretty much a definitive prerequisite that the horse has won over three miles or more, which seems like common sense, albeit fairly uncommon at that time of year.

So, the conclusion is that there are ways to vastly increase your chances on the biggest money race of the year.