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O'Farrell the Midlands Star

It may have been a case of the calm after the storm, but try telling that to young Irish jockey Conor O'Farrell following his Midlands Grand National success aboard Minella Four Star.

Uttoxeter was the centre of attention for racegoers who had not seen enough action at Cheltenham throughout the week and, as usual, a bumper crowd gathered in Staffordshire.

The spring-like weather helped and, unusually, the gruelling totesport-sponsored Midlands National was not run in heavy ground.

That led many to think there would be plenty more than the usual handful of finishers in the four-mile-one-furlong contest, but of the 17 that set out, only four came home.

They were led by O'Farrell on David Pipe's Minella Four Star, who had previously looked a young stayer going places before he pulled up on his most recent outing at Doncaster. That aberration meant he was sent off at 25-1.

The fact Pipe's stable jockey Tom Scudamore rode Gentle Ranger, who was last of the four finishers, would also have dissuaded plenty of punters.



Sticky

Last year's winner Synchronised was sent off the 9-2 favourite having won the Welsh National since his victory 12 months earlier, but that also meant he had to carry top weight.

With the ground riding sticky, Tony McCoy was riding from a long way out and it says everything about the champion jockey that he still had a chance in the straight.

But O'Farrell, who struck on his first Festival ride aboard Pipe's Buena Vista in the Pertemps Final, always had things under control.

Pipe's assistant trainer Gerry Supple said: "Minella Four Star came from the same Cheltenham sales as Junior.

"He ran a lovely race first time back at Ffos Las, and was running well when he was hampered on his previous start at Doncaster."

O'Farrell added: "It's been some week -- one I won't forget it in a hurry."

Tommy Stack, meanwhile, served notice of his early-season potency with a double at the Curragh yesterday.

The County Tipperary handler rattled off a four-timer at this meeting 12 months ago, and again enjoyed another rich harvest on the first day of the Irish Flat campaign.

Lolly For Dolly spearheaded the Stack brace by scooping the Group Three Lodge Park Stud EBF Park Express Stakes.



Exciting

Fozzy Stack, assistant trainer and son of the victorious handler, said: "We'll go for the Gladness Stakes (Curragh, April 3) next."

Stack's Blue Dahlia (9-2) won on this card 12 months ago and again hit the target in the Newbridge & Ocala Twinning Handicap.

Drombeg Dawn (25-1) later outgunned Jim Bolger's Toraidhe in an exciting renewal of the www.thetote.com Irish Lincolnshire.

Trainer Andrew McNamara said: "I won this race 25 years ago with Colonel James, although he won a lot easier than this filly.

"We'll step her up in trip, perhaps to 10 furlongs, and she'll go on quick ground."

Aidan O'Brien also made a brisk start to the campaign when Sing Softly (8-1) claimed the Big Bad Bob Maiden.

Seamie Heffernan always had his mount well placed on the stands side, and convincingly fended off the challenge of 5-2 favourite Rose Bonheur by two lengths.

O'Brien said: "She's a grand filly and will stay a bit further."