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Postmark: No mystery about Stranger's chance.

Dark Stranger's stamina has to be taken on trust, but his runaway win in the Mildmay of Flete Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival makes him the clear pick of the weights in the Martell Grand National (3.45) at Aintree today.

The Martin Pipe-trained nine-year-old, blinkered for the first time, was a revelation at Prestbury Park, winning easily in a fast time.

However, there has to be a doubt about him getting the trip and he appeared to be outstayed by Noisy Miner over just short of three miles at Leicester last season.

On a more positive note, though, that race was on ground far softer than he will encounter here.

Regular Haydock winner The Last Fling is second-best in at the weights and should not fail for lack of stamina. But dominating small fields around Haydock is very different to the task he faces this time.

Last year's winner Bobbyjo is still a potential improver and, along with the in-form Star Traveller, has sound credentials.

Hors La Loi is the form pick for the Martell Aintree Hurdle (2.55). Although he won at this meeting last year, the Champion Hurdle runner-up is probably better suited by a stiffer track like Cheltenham. But the return to two and a half miles is expected to suit him.

It goes against the grain to oppose last year's winner Kinnescash in the Cordon Bleu Handicap Hurdle (1.45) but, with his stable still quiet, there has to be a doubt him reproducing his best form.

In any case, he might still not be good enough to cope with Dee Pee Tee Cee, whose Wetherby win last time is working out well.

The progressive Samakaan is closely matched on Cheltenham form with Green Green Desert and Aghawadda Gold in the Martell Red Rum Handicap Chase (2.20).

But the Venetia Williams-trained seven-year-old gives the strong impression he is capable of extending his winning run. Clifton Beat may give him most to do.

Real Value just gets the nod over stablemate Satchmo and Lakefield Rambler in a classy renewal of the Martell Reserve Novices' Hunters' Chase (4.35), while Cheltenham runner-up Inca stands out in the Martell Champion National Hunt Flat Race (5.15).

Selections: 1.45 Dee Pee Tee Cee (nap), 2.20 Samakaan, 2.55 Hors La Loi, 3.45 Dark Stranger, 4.35 Real Value, 5.15 Inca.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Mason, Steve
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Apr 8, 2000
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