BOOKMAKERS ARE TAKING MORE and more interest in the world of speedway, as can be seen by the fact that the 2004 Elite League was sponsored by Skybet. With television coverage on the increase, solely down to Sky - and how many sports can we say that about? - there is a variety of markets, such as outright score, handicap score, heat winner and forecast, for the discerning punter to get involved in, particularly when matches are televised.
However, it is not all good news for speedway punters as the days of the Stan James long-list, when all Elite League matches for a week would be priced up several days before, are long gone. To be fair, you cannot really blame the odds-compilers for their caution. This is a sport where team news is all-important, and where competitors are only 60 seconds away from serious injury.
With most top riders plying their trade in Poland on Sundays and Sweden on Tuesdays as well as in this country - notwithstanding the grand prix series - last-minute team changes are part and parcel of the sport. Consequently, most bookmakers tend to price up Elite League matches - even the televised ones - only on the day of the meeting.
The use of squad systems in the Elite League this season has not helped either. The choice of reserves can often make the difference between success and failure and most teams in 2004 have used several different rider combinations in the two berths, depending mainly on availability and sometimes suitability to a track.
What can we bet on then? Well, at the start of the season most of the major firms will price up the Elite League and the outright grand prix champion, and when the individual grands prix come along - a nine-round series in 2004 - they will furnish prices for them.
DOMESTIC ACTION - Picking the Elite League winner in March is never easy and with the use of a play-off system designed to keep as many teams as possible in the hunt for the title, you can pick a team which finishes top of the league at the end of the season but is not crowned champions, due to the play-offs. Another thing to bear in mind is that it is difficult to gauge the effects of the inevitable rule changes that may be made to the sport during the close season. Poole cleaned up in 2003 primarily because they had both Tony Rickardsson and Leigh Adams in the same side, thereby making them practically unbeatable in the decisive late heats. However, a grading system was introduced the following season, which effectively meant only one top rider was available for each side.
It is difficult to make hard and fast statements as to what you should be looking for when making your investment on a side for the League as the rules may alter again next year.
In 2004. I selected Poole and Wolverhampton on the basis that I thought both would be hard to beat at home, and could provide enough firepower on their travels to pick up vital bonus points. I also liked the look of Wolverhampton's reserve options.
Both sides went on to enjoy considerable success. However, when those selections were made Tony Rickardsson was one of the main reasons for tipping Poole, and he quit the club in May, while Wolverhampton's latest star reserve Freddie Lindgren was not even in their side.