Pipe looks to Cheltenham Festival team to step up after season of slim pickings
For a yard used to winners it has been far from a vintage campaign, but David Pipe hopes a stack of live each-way chances at his happy hunting ground can come to the rescue.
The pickings have been slimmer than usual at his legendary Nicholashayne stable this season, and having enjoyed 100 or more winners in seven of his 11 previous campaigns Pipe has saddled just 26 this time. But he heads to next week's Cheltenham with a team of up to ten each-way prospects, headed by general 8-1 shot Kings Socks in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate on Thursday, in a bid to maintain an impressive strike-rate at the meeting.
Pipe has enjoyed 15 festival winners since taking over the reins at Pond House in the 2006 from his record-breaking father Martin, whose 34 wins included two in the Champion Hurdle.
Pipe reflected on Thursday: "We've had quite a lot of luck at the festival and usually had a winner or two, but we had more horses then. We have fewer darts to throw this time, but we could have eight or ten, and hopefully the ones we send will all have decent each-way chances."
Pipe has drawn a blank only twice, in 2009 and 2013, and the last four festivals have yielded an impressive tally of seven wins, including three in 2014, when a shock success with Western Warhorse in the Arkle was followed by a second Grade 1 with Dynaste in the Ryanair Chase and an easy handicap win from the enigmatic Ballynagour in the Plate.
While he will not be strongly represented in the Grade 1s this time, Pipe has a clutch of live chances, particularly in the Plate – a race he has also won with Great Endeavour and Salut Flo – and Vaniteux in the Grand Annual.
King's Socks is something of an unknown quantity, but Pipe clearly rates him, saying: "King's Socks had been off more than 600 days with leg trouble before he ran at Kempton last month, but he ran well in what was a funny race.
"He had good form in France, finishing second to Footpad on his last start there, and we've liked him since day one. He's in good form at home and would be one of our better chances."
Vaniteux was bought out of Nicky Henderson's stable for £125,000 last May and ran his best race since when second to Politologue in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton over Christmas.
Pipe said: "He took a while to find his feet here but his best run was his last run and he was always going to be a better horse on better ground in the spring, so this should be his time of year. He's always been a good work horse and he's come down a few pounds now.”
Ramses De Teillee (Ultima or Close Brothers) He's had a good season and hasn't been out of the first two in his last six starts. His big assets are that he jumps well and travels well. Off 145 he has an each-way shout in whichever race he goes for – probably the Ultima.
Know The Score (Weatherbys Champion Bumper) He was a point-to-point winner and made a good start for us at Towcester. He's a decent horse, and the slower the ground the better.
Mr Big Shot (Martin Pipe Conditional Riders' Handicap Hurdle) He's a bit too big for his own good and has lots of niggling issues, but he's very talented and the step up in trip should be fine. His long absence certainly hasn't been down to protecting his mark and his preparation hasn't been ideal. We're on course again now, but we'll take it day by day.
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