The record-breaking feats of Martin Pipe and Peter Scudamore
A double act who took the racing world by storm
First published on Wednesday, September 25, 2013
It’s the hallmark you’ll find stamped on any sportsman with pretensions to greatness, that he should, wittingly or otherwise, have changed the landscape of the game to which he has devoted his time and gifts.
Many trainers have copied the methods of Martin Pipe in recent decades and several jockeys have superseded the numerical achievements of Peter Scudamore, but none can claim to have cut such a swathe through racing’s centuries-old idyll as the pair who arrived like an act of God in the closing years of the 1980s.
These unlikely iconoclasts arrived to a mixed welcome of awe and resentment, like intruders in a quiet gallery, defacing the Constables and hanging in their place abstracts that bore little relation to anything that had been seen or done before. For better or worse, depending on which side of the critical divide you found yourself, National Hunt became a modern art form that left many of the old masters gasping for air.
That wasn’t how Pipe had planned it. The son of a West Country bookmaker maintains that once he had abandoned a brief and unremarkable career in the saddle, all he wanted to do was train the winner of every seller in Devon and Somerset, and finish one place in front of local handler Les Kennard wherever possible, leaving the great and good of racing to their own lofty devices.
Starting from the unpromising beginnings of a derelict farm and a shelf of dog-eared old equine text books, the untutored horseman took out a licence in 1974 and began reading his way to some form of understanding. With his mind uncluttered by years spent learning at the feet of people who played by the old rules, he learned the hard way, by means of hard financial necessity and the forthright urgings of David Pipe snr.
Eschewing the horseman’s eye and the instinctive approach, Martin adopted blood tests, the meticulous keeping of data and the use of newfangled interval training on an all-weather gallop to produce the kind of lean, wiry and relentless front-running beasts far removed from the burly, old-fashioned chasers of yore, but with which he had noted fellow young buck Michael Dickinson enjoying considerable success.
FIVE KEY MOMENTS
Scudamore’s 200 Family and friends gathered in force to see Scu reach a milestone that had never been in anyone’s sights until then – 158 of the winners were supplied by Pipe, for whom he rode 792 in total
Pipe’s first 200 Anti Matter came within a whisker of being kicked at the start, says Scu, but survived the scare to complete a 1989 miracle at Stratford. Seven more double tons would follow
Granville Again’s Champion Hurdle “It was special because it was our first really big championship race together,” says Scudamore of the 1993 milestone
Carvill’s Hill’s Welsh National A monumental performance from 1993, under top weight in testing conditions. Has to be seen to be believed
Bonanza Boy’s Welsh Nationals This old favourite won the Chepstow showpiece in 1988 and 1989, under 10st 1lb and 11st 11lb, before landing a hunter chase under David Pipe at Ludlow in 1994
After what must have seemed an age, Pipe knew more or less what he was doing, had earned a reputation as a prolific winner and now lacked just one piece of the jigsaw: a top-class jockey who understood his aims and methods.
While all this was going on, Peter Scudamore had been making quite a name for himself. The son of Grand National-winning jockey Michael had, however, steered a rather more conventional path to success, carrying on the family dynasty with a riding career that began in 1978 and progressed to the point where he shared the jockeys’ title with John Francome in 1982 and won it outright for the first time in 1986.
Scu had ridden for Fred Winter and David ‘The Duke’ Nicholson – titans of their day – and might have been considered an unlikely bedfellow for the upstart from Nicholashayne, but the yard at Pond House had been on the champ’s radar for some time, for reasons that left him flabbergasted.
Pipe, who recalls first meeting Scudamore when he visited the injured jockey at East Reach Hospital in Taunton, remembers the day when the seeds of a great partnership were sown. “My other jockeys were injured, so Scu rode Hieronymus for me at the end of the season at Haydock. I told him he’d stay, so make all, kick and go, don’t worry, he’ll keep going. He won by half the track and Scu couldn’t believe it – he said it was the fittest horse he’d ridden all season and kept saying it to me until it got on my nerves. I didn’t know what he was on about. He couldn’t understand how this one could keep going when a lot of others couldn’t, but it was just because he was 100 per cent fit. After that he wanted to ride for me.”
“The horse never jumped a twig, kicked every hurdle out of the way and still won,” confirms Scudamore. “I think what I said made him realise he was doing things correctly and he saw I appreciated that.”
It is hard, deep in the era of Tony McCoy, to imagine the astonishment with which the racing world reacted to Scudamore’s title-winning tally of 221 winners – from 662 rides, at an incredible strike rate of 33 per cent – at a time when the season lasted for ten months rather than 12. The rider himself is torn between pride and a slight sense of bashfulness at having so comprehensively shredded the records of those who had gone before him.
“I was breaking ground and going places I never thought a jump jockey would go. Graham Thorner was champion with 71 winners and people like him were my heroes, so it was hard to believe we were that far ahead of them, but our drive got us there.
“People can judge if you’re a good jockey or a bad one and if I’d wanted to be judged I’d have gone into the show ring, but this was not about opinion. Nobody had ridden 200 winners before and I had.”
Scudamore ran up a sequence of seven successive championships while Pipe, starting from 1988-89, landed 15 in a matchless 17-year spell, hitting the undreamt-of 200-mark with apparent comfort, to the point where the previously mythical 300 became a topic for speculation. His lone Cheltenham Festival winner – 66-1 shot Baron Blakeney, conqueror of Nicholson hotpot Broadsword in the 1981 Triumph Hurdle – was quickly engulfed by a tidal wave of others, including Champion Hurdle hero Granville Again under Scudamore in 1993.
Both men had their detractors – Pipe was unjustly savaged by the Cook Report TV programme in 1991 for alleged cruelty and Scudamore always rode slightly in the shadow of the great stylists Francome and Richard Dunwoody – but neither was in any doubt as to the monumental contribution of the other to the partnership.
“People say he wasn’t stylish but he was very, very good,” says Pipe. “It’s not easy to win on these front-running horses and you have to have lots of skill and professionalism. He was a great rider and a great judge of pace, but really all I wanted was a jockey who wanted to win. I know it sounds silly but you need a jockey who’ll go out with the utmost confidence, who has that belief, who’s not just delighted to get round. We all had our differences but we were on the same wavelength.”
“I’m immensely proud of my association with Martin,” says Scudamore, “although I didn’t realise at first just how good a trainer he was. I’d been champion jockey so I went there thinking I was going to teach him all I knew, and I left realising how little I’d known when I went there. I was immensely fortunate to work for somebody I considered a genius.
“And it wasn’t just him. Carol [Pipe’s wife] had a very big part to play and David Pipe, his father, was the boss, really, and responsible for a lot of the tactics.
“When you’re riding, you don’t necessarily analyse what you’re doing, but when I look back now I see the reason I rode so well for Martin was that I was riding for a family. It was a very tight unit and, although it wasn’t a conscious thing, there were people who really didn’t like him and the more people said we were doping or whatever, the closer it drove us together.”
THE FACT BOX
Born: June 13, 1958
Pipe on Scudamore
“I remember him winning eight or nine in a row from Newton Abbot to Exeter and he came back in from the next one with a really sour face, like he’d never ridden a winner in his life. I was trying to make him smile but he couldn’t because he was concentrating so hard on the next race. The past is gone and it’s the next winner that counts.”
Scudamore on Pipe “I never knew somebody who knew the value of his horses and the workings of the form book the way he did. I remember him telling me in January that Olympian would be the first to win the big bonus for the Imperial Cup and the Coral Cup, and he’d do the same thing with sellers, three weeks ahead.”
Relive it Key in ‘Carvill’s Hill’ on YouTube to enjoy the 1991 demolition of the Welsh National field.
What happened next Pipe was champion trainer another ten times before retiring at the end of the 2005 season. He has proved impossible to dislodge from Pond House and now acts as de facto assistant to his son David. Having retired with 1,678 winners, Peter Scudamore MBE went on to be assistant to Nigel Twiston-Davies, a BBC racing correspondent and Daily Mail columnist and, most recently, assistant to his partner Lucinda Russell at Arlary House Stables in Kinross, Scotland. His son Tom is now first jockey to David Pipe while his other son Michael trains in Herefordshire.
There was a siege mentality about the Pond House operation at times, born out of Pipe snr’s cagey bookmaker’s mindset and the barbs hurled their way by detractors, many of whom saw their familiar landscape being trampled by a foreign force, but although the ‘family’ was a close-knit one, that didn’t mean peace and harmony always reigned within. Even the Pipe/Scudamore axis wasn’t unbeatable and the two fierce competitors didn’t always respond well to failure.
“They were funny times,” recalls Pipe. “I’d blow hot and cold but we soon got over it. He told me I was wrong loads of times and often he’d be right, but you can’t be right all the time.”
“I made mistakes,” admits Scudamore, “and there were bollockings and times when he told me I’d never ride for him again, when he told me if you get beat on this don’t come back again, but I loved that intensity, that backing he gave me, that confidence.”
The sparks were simply the product of regular collisions between an immovable object and an irresistible force, and more characteristic of the relationship was the mutual respect that bound the two men together. The jockey still remembers the year he broke his leg and Pipe kept back a host of horses to ensure another title-winning burst upon his return to action. The trainer adds that he also called the surgeon and talked him through the operation beforehand, just to be sure.
“Early on he said to me ‘always tell me the truth and I’ll never fall out with you’ remembers Scudamore as he seeks to distil the essence of a working relationship described by both of their wives as being more like a marriage.
“That was our partnership and it was such fun, being so far ahead, and we’d laugh behind closed doors at our own stupidities. You’d have four winners and the last one would get beat and you’d be miserable, you’d have two losers and the last three won and you’d be great.
“For Martin it was all about commitment. If a horse came into the yard at three in the morning he’d get up and go and see it and he wanted you to have the same passion, to know everything about every horse you were riding. If you didn’t know the form of a horse you were riding, and how it should be ridden, he’d be angry, because he expected you to care as much as he did.”
Scudamore finally ended the era by retiring on April 7, 1993, at the age of 34, after winning at Ascot on a horse called Sweet Duke, trained by his soon-to-be training partner Nigel Twiston-Davies. Dunwoody went on to win the title that season before taking Scu’s place in the saddle at Nicholashayne, only to himself be replaced by McCoy.
‘Pipe was a genius of his time’
“I’d worked for David Nicholson, who was very different, and for Fred Winter, who had my utmost respect but was towards the end of his career, while Martin was at the beginning of his.
“With David we did everything properly, mile and a quarter, make sure your shoes were clean, then I went to Martin’s and we cantered up the gallops and cantered back down again, and in my day it would be on some narrow, 15.2 hands selling plater. I thought he’d never train winners, but in my first season there we’d had 50 before Christmas and 49 of them were hurdlers. It was totally different.
“A lot of people were immensely jealous, and I can understand that now I’ve trained. The last thing you’d want is for a horse to leave you and go to Martin Pipe, but a hell of a lot of horses were doing it and there was a hell of a lot of ill feeling. Quite simply, he was a genius of his time.”
“My father had a bad fall when he was 34 and I felt that although I’d put everything into racing, I needed to be a person beyond just being a jockey.
“The Grand National was the race I most wanted to win, and that was over and it was a good time to go. I didn’t want to say ‘I’m giving up at the end of the year’, because I wanted to give total commitment, because that’s what Martin demanded. I wanted to come to the right day and just go, and that’s what I did.”
“It was a wrench,” says Pipe, as he recalls the morning in the kitchen when his great ally broke the news. “Dunwoody was different from Scu. I think Scu and I moulded together because he was more open to listen and try things, he’d teach me about schooling and horses and we got a lot of things right between us.”
Scudamore packed up a year too soon to ride Miinnehoma to victory in the National for Pipe and never won a Cheltenham Gold Cup or a King George, but the pair between them mopped up countless big prizes with the likes of Bonanza Boy, Carvill’s Hill, Chatam, Granville Again and Rolling Ball.
The jockey’s records were soon broken and the trainer’s supremacy was finally challenged by those who had come to appreciate and imitate his methods. Ultimately, however, it was five years of groundbreaking numerical onslaught that characterised one of racing’s most famous marriages and ensured Pipe and Scudamore will be remembered as the men who changed the face of racing forever.
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