Big Occasion on the mark for Pipe
DAVID PIPE maintained his stranglehold on the Midlands Grand National – but in what proved a surprise to most it was maiden chaser Big Occasion that made it three wins in as many years in the Betfred-sponsored Uttoxeter marathon rather than 2012 winner Master Overseer.
Pipe might have gone winnerless at Cheltenham but Big Occasion's triumph under Scottish amateur Mikey Ennis went a long way to making up for that.
The six-year-old, twice a winner for Aidan O'Brien in his younger days, relished the heavy ground and, as Chac Du Cadran and Carruthers took each other on from the front, Ennis buried him in the pack and made his move well into the last of three circuits.
Coming out of the back straight Ennis was positively motionless on Big Occasion and on assuming command before the third-last the race was as good as over, with Big Occasion pulling six lengths clear.
Master Overseer was pulled up while Chac Du Cadran faded into sixth. The heavily-backed Major Malarkey was pulled up after just one fence.
Uttoxeter has always had a special place in the heart of owner Josh Apiafi who fronts owners The Old Betfairians.
He recalled meeting his wife Abby at the Staffordshire course, as well as riding his last winner at the track for Pipe's father, Martin.
"We bought Big Occasion two years ago as a novice hurdler, but since winning over hurdles at Chepstow it's took us a while to work out that what he really wanted was four miles-plus," Apiafi said.
Pipe appeared surprised by the triumph of the 6/1 Big Occasion, who he bought out of O'Brien's Ballydoyle operation. He said: "Unfortunately Master Overseer has put another 'P' next to his name but the way we have changed our training of Big Occasion has obviously worked. We couldn't see him seeing out three miles but now he appears to want to go as far as they can go."
For 30-year-old rider Ennis this was a "biggest career success by far".
He said: "He was a maiden over fences but was always travelling with ease and he jumped well on the whole. I didn't want to be in front too soon but the blinkers worked. I'm from a place close to Musselburgh. It's my second season with David. I rode at Cheltenham for him last year and won a nice race on Swing Bill.
"I've had 11 winners under Rules plus 25 point winners. Coming here I was thinking the quicker I turn pro the better. That was a nice pot to win without getting a percentage."
Meanwhile, Treacle and Ninetieth Minute look set to represent Tom Taaffe in the John Smith's Grand National after leading home a one-two for the stable in the Daily Mirror Chase at Down Royal.
Allee Garde took the field along for much of the way, surviving a bad blunder at the eighth fence from which Danny Mullins did well to stay in the plate.
As the pack loomed, Allee Garde held just the narrowest of advantages at the third-last, after which Leggy Lad went on seeming full of running, but so too on the outside was Ninetieth Minute.
The latter assumed brief command but was slightly awkward at the second-last and it was Treacle [5/2] who pinged the final fence before running on strongly for a four-length success.