The sport of students

And he's off: Gary Hodsden is setting up a horse racing appreciation society
And he's off: Gary Hodsden is setting up a horse racing appreciation society
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GARY Hodsden well remembers his biggest win.

It came in the 2011 Grand National when 33-1 outsider Neptune Collonges took first place by a nose.

“I was watching it on TV,” says the 21-year-old. “Cheering like crazy, getting more and more excited, the adrenaline pumping...”

He pauses.

“It’s a shame I only bet 30p, on reflection,” he notes. “I won £12.”

He didn’t, it should be noted, let the win change him. But that exhilaration of knowing he had, through research, skill and perhaps a touch of luck, backed a long-odds winner, is what has led him this month to setting up Sheffield’s first ever university-based horse racing appreciation society.

He loves the sport of kings, and reckons it would be good for the city’s students to spend less leisure time doing traditional academic activities (ie, drinking and watching afternoon TV) and more exploring the excitement of the track.

The club will organise reduced-price day trips to courses across the country (outings to Doncaster and York are already booked), as well as arranging stable visits and charity race nights where non-students will be invited to spend an evening betting on televised runs in aid of a good cause.

It is only the 12th such society of its kind anywhere in the UK. And with a dozen members already signed up, Gary reckons the group - full name, the Sheffield Hallam University Racing Appreciation Society - is a sure bet to be successful.

“I’m confident the odds are good on us getting plenty of people involved,” says the PR and media student of Edward Street, city centre.

It almost didn’t get out the starting paddock, though.

Uni top brass weren’t entirely convinced a sport built around gambling was a good idea. They had their reservations,” admits Gary, who originally comes from St Albans. “But there’s more to horse racing than betting.

“I’ve been going for three years and I never spend more than £20 - which most students would spend on a night out anyway. You get the excitement from researching the horses, studying the forms, looking at the conditions, and trying to put all that together and pick a winner. It’s not the money that’s important. It’s just the actual winning.”

Gary himself got into the sport when an uncle took him to legendary course Newmarket three years ago.

“It was just a magical experience,” he says.

And since then his passion has grown by the galloping furlong. “You have lots of free time at uni,” he says. “So I started reading up around the sport more and more, and just got into it that way.” He thinks a second.

“That makes me sound bad, though - put in that I have lots of work to do for my course too.

“But I hope I can introduce the joy of racing to a few more people.”

For information about joining and events, follow on Twitter @SHUHorseRacing

Have a flutter on Gary

His top tips for today’s racing are:

3:10 at Southwell: REPETITION - a strong sprinting pedigree.

3.40 at Southwell: AUBRIETTA – in top form.

3:30 at Market Rasen: BALINROAB – a great jump jockey.