Monday 26 February 2018

Endeavour ensures Pipe is back on top

Ian McClean, at Cheltenham

Cheltenham clerk of the course Simon Claisse remarked how he could never remember temperatures quite like yesterday for the November Open meeting.

It was not so difficult to recall, however, the last time we saw a Pipe-trained winner of the feature race of the meeting, the Paddy Power Gold Cup. Back then it happened with impunity. Martin Pipe, now retired, once exerted total domination on the race (winning it a record eight times between 1987 and 2005) but his son David had yet to strike Gold in the five years since taking over the reins at Nicholashayne. Until yesterday.

It was just like old times watching the blue-and-green of patron David Johnson's silks storm up the famous hill in virtual isolation as the seven-year-old grey Great Endeavour put the disappointment of last season firmly to bed with an exhibition of dominance that seemed improbable -- given the ultra-competitive look of the field -- before the race.

An early feature of the race was the massive on-course support for seasonal debutant Wishfull Thinking -- supported from an early morning 8/1 to a slimline 7/2 favourite at the off. As if sensing the expectation, Richard Johnson set out to dominate the maximum field of 20 runners from the raising of the tape. However, the favourite raced a fraction too keenly throughout and began to struggle before the home straight. Great Endeavour, which had missed the break when heavily backed at the Festival here in March, suffered no such mishap this time and was close up behind the leader for the duration. He was positioned to take command when the favourite capitulated and, as David Johnson reflected after the race: "I thought he was the winner at the top of the hill."

It really was that easy -- with the winner followed in at a respectful distance by the first two home in the March Festival's Centenary handicap (Quantitativeeasing and Divers). Disappointments among the vanquished included deposed favourite Mon Parrain which was never sighted and continued Paul Nicholls' hoodoo in the race; Dave's Dream, which was done for by the overnight rain, according to his trainer; and Henry de Bromhead's Loosen My Load which got uncharacteristically warm beforehand and ran as if something was badly amiss.

Disappointments aside, the race was a form of rejuvenation for both David Johnson and retained jockey Timmy Murphy, each of whom have taken time for some solemn reflection in light of the impact of the recession on their affairs. A cheery Johnson said after the race: "This is like the old days! It is my seventh win in the race. I have punched above my weight thanks to Martin and now David (Pipe), as well as AP and now Timmy."

Victory marked an emotional moment also for David Pipe, who, according to his owner, spent the race "hiding, not watching". The young trainer was following three winners and a second on Friday with success in yesterday's feature.

"This meeting is second only to the Festival and we always plan ahead for it. I didn't think I would ever actually win this race -- dad has always farmed the meeting. There are not many things that get to me but the press were on about how Pond House used to farm this meeting. It had never been as successful for me until yesterday."

If David Pipe is a new bloom at the Open meeting then the names of Nicholls and Mullins are hardy perennials and both found themselves on the scoresheet yesterday. Despite the disappointment of Mon Parrain in the big one, Paul Nicholls still managed to record a hat-trick with Ruby Walsh. The most exciting, arguably, came in the opening JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial with the French import Hinterland. Sent off 6/4 favourite on the strength of his attractive Gallic form, he exuded class throughout to beat off a host of previous winners with the minimum of fuss.

"He is probably as good a juvenile as we have had at this stage of the season," said Nicholls. "But we bought him with chasing very much in mind". It's hardly surprising when you see this horse in the flesh as he towered over his opponents in the paddock.

Following Patrick Mullins' win in the Cross Country on Friday, another grandson of the late, great Paddy Mullins recorded his first win at the spiritual home of National Hunt racing when Danny (son of Tony) won the handicap hurdle on Dorset Square for (uncle) Willie. Danny managed to squeeze up the inside rail of the son of another racing dynasty -- Sam Twiston-Davies -- to drive his mount home by the narrowest margin.

A perfect fillip for the UK career of the young 3lb claimer which started a month ago with Alan King. All in all, a day for both past and future reflections for names reassuringly familiar.

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