Grands Crus can let Pipe stand alone with race of his life
The Classic-winning French trainer Criquette Head-Maarek found herself in an unusual position when she took over the licence from her father Alec in the 1970s. Most turfistes were shocked that the Head family should entrust the business to one so young, and a woman at that.
Criquette, an amiable yet most determined racing figure, explained that rather than being the subject of sniping from those within the industry, she experienced just the opposite. "Behind my back, they were all saying that my father was still training them anyway, and, of course, they didn't want to criticise him, otherwise they would have looked a little stupid. So, I escaped, and I was able to make my mistakes."
The same could never be said of David Pipe, who took over from his father Martin. With over 4,000 winners to his credit in more than 30 years, Pipe Snr remains the most successful trainer in the history of the sport.
David has always been seen as having taken the controls himself, and those aboard have been subject to any decisions he has taken from the very start.
David has spent much time in developing a new clientele at Pond House, and his diligence and hard work is paying off, with a Grand National winner, triumph in the Hennessy Gold Cup, as well as scores of handsomely-backed successes, including an Imperial Cup/Cheltenham double in the same week with the game filly Gaspara.
As for mistakes, unlike Mme Head-Maarek, he has made them in full glare of a critical punting audience, and, one imagines, the monitoring of a restrained but concerned father. "He can give you the silent treatment," David confided recently.
Clearly, the time has arrived for the younger Pipe to have his 'own' champion, a horse he has had from early days and developed over a lengthy period. That horse is the grey Grands Crus, which faces the biggest challenge of his career in today's Ladbrokes World Hurdle as he takes on defending champion Big Buck's.
Racing scribes are a little wary of building this truly fascinating staying contest into another unmissable showdown. Memories of Imperial Commander upstaging Kauto Star and Denman only 12 months ago are still embarrassingly fresh, so there is little danger of a repeat blunder, though frankly, the two principals dominate completely.
The Paul Nicholls-trained Big Buck's is trying to become the first to complete a hat-trick of victories in the race. His prowess in this division has been a revelation, ever since he unseated his rider in the Hennessy Gold Cup. His credentials make him a worthy favourite.
But for Nicholls, as well as owners Andy and Judy Stewart and their sons, I fear their champion might meet his match this time. Grands Crus, which has risen as swiftly through the hurdling ranks as any in recent memory, is a free-going front runner, which has the ability to set up the race for the favourite unless, as I suspect, he gets him off the bridle and chasing before the home bend.
The potency of a typical late challenge from Big Buck's relies heavily on producing him at the death. This will be as good a test of Ruby Walsh's judgment as any of his rides this week, and rival Tom Scudamore, who has played the race over and over in his mind, will be anxious to get Grands Crus into a manageable racing rhythm before he embarks on the downhill run to the turn.
Willie Mullins' hopes are carried by Fiveforthree and Mourad, and both have place claims, but without much hesitation, I declare my allegiance to Grand Crus, which I believe is set to run the race of his life. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
1.30: Wishfull Thinking (nap)
3.20: Grands Crus
4.00: Aigle d'Or
4.40: Galant Nuit