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Victor Chandler writes . . .
6:45pm Friday 15th March 2013 in Sport
THE Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter means the Cheltenham Festival has been and gone for another year. There's 14 going to post for Uttoxeter's big race of the year and a chance is taken on Big Occasion (3.50) representing the David Pipe yard.
The selection chased home the well-handicapped Emperor's Choice at Lingfield last time and although the winner did little for the form at Cheltenham earlier in the week that was an improved run.
He is 10/1 with betvictor.com and that looks a fair price with his amateur good value for his 7lb claim. He is 3lb wrong at the weights but his jockey can do 9st 7lbs and can give Pipe a third successive win in the race.
Pipe also saddles Master Overseer, last year's winner, who must run from a mark 21lbs higher than when successful last year.
The Group 3 Winter Derby is the highlight of the all-weather season at Lingfield and the Roger Varian-trained Farraaj (3.30), 9/4 at betvictor.com, gets the nod. Lightly-raced, the stable have a habit of making a quick start to the year and the selection finished third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile before missing most of his three-year-old career before landing the Listed Churchill Stakes over today's course and distance in November.
This race was swiftly highlighted as his target and, although he must improve again upped in class, he must run well.
There is rain forecast for the Staffordshire track and horses will have to be able to cope with soft ground. Young conditional Thomas Garner has been one of the finds of the season and Financial Climate (4.25) coped well enough with similar conditions at Fontwell last time.
Both his career wins have come at that track but there is no reason to think he will be less effective away from the Sussex venue and he can give the yard of Oliver Sherwood a welcome winner.
Their stable star Puffin Billy ran a cracker when finishing fifth in the Supreme Novices' on ground that wasn't as soft as had been predicted. He would be of interest over 2m 4f at Aintree next month if turning account again.
Al Alfa (5.10) looked a natural over fences on his chase debut for the Philip Hobbs yard at Warwick and he looks fairly treated stepping into handicap company at Kempton given he was a winning point-to-pointer and jumped well at Warwick which is always a fair test for novices.
Moleskin is a big danger for the Victor Dartnell yard with leading conditional Harry Derham taking off a valuable 5lbs but Al Alfa could be still be ahead of the handicapper and gets the nod.
The nap runs at Ffos Las where I hope Makethemostofnow (4.15) can go one better than at Catterick last time when he was outstayed by a useful and unexposed novice. The selection was a point-to-point winner in Ireland and has a good record at the Welsh track having won twice previously and if the ground deteriorates that should not be a concern.
Adam Wedge won on the horse when successful over hurdles here last March and his 3lb claim is a help.
At Wolverhampton, Sharaar (8.50) was well backed on debut and, although too inexperienced to do himself justice, showed definite signs of ability at Lingfield last month.
He looks sure to have come on for the run and Luke Morris again takes the mount for Gerard Butler; he is a half-brother to seven winners and the step up to the extended mile at Dunstall Park should help.
Four Festival winners were tipped in yesterday's column, to cap off a cracking week: Our Conor 4/1, Alderwood 4/1, Salsify 9/4 and At Fishers Cross 13/8.