Matt Brocklebank reflects on a visit to David Pipe's Pond House Stables, where a happy trainer and happy horses look set to enjoy a successful campaign.
Click on the play icon above for full David Pipe video interview with Oli Bell
Nice guys need not necessarily finish last, thank heavens, and David Pipe is living proof.
Pipe’s unusually golden honeymoon period, when he became the first person to train a hundred winners in a debut season, may be over but last year’s tally (44) represented an increase on the year before, while the 2019/20 campaign has started brightly for a Pond House Stables whose history of success runs long and deep.
Following in the footprints of a legend was clearly never going to be easy but is a task Pipe has handled with dignity through the good times and bad since taking over the licence from his father in 2006.
With 23 winners on the board already and a summer haul in excess of £200,000 in prize money, Pipe sits seventh in the fledgling championship standings, and there is a definite spring in the trainer’s step this time around.
Whether that’s entirely down to the influx of some exciting new talent to the yard, or due to his recent engagement to long-time partner Leanne, isn’t perfectly clear but talk turns effortlessly from one man’s significant, bended-knee action to those of his winter string out on the gallop, and a positive bulletin on the unbeaten Eden Du Houx.
Last seen making every yard in a Listed bumper at Ascot in December, he cuts a mean figure in his work and is the standout among a second lot also featuring Umbrigado, Remastered and lightly-raced mare Queens Cave.
“It’s autumn,” Pipe smiles warmly. “You can feel it.”
Anyone with the faintest association with National Hunt racing knows that this is a gripping time of year. Seeing one's breath in a morning is to almost see the drama beginning to unfold.
The glitzy spring festivals complete with sides of salmon can sit and wait a while, we're on the cusp of the winter programme really clicking into gear and Pipe’s horses seem locked and loaded following the region's wettest September in almost 20 years.
Like the man himself, these tough characters only really get going when the going gets tough.
Stable stalwart Vieux Lion Rouge is 10 rising 11 and will be out to book his spot in Sandown’s veterans’ finale when he runs at Chepstow over the weekend, while Eamon An Cnoic is your archetypal Pipe headliner for the Open Meeting at Cheltenham. There is a touch of the Great Endeavour about this horse's overall profile.
As for plans regarding high-class stayer Ramses Des Teilles, there’s a glint in the trainer’s eye of which Pipe senior would be proud when suggesting he could be about to mop up a few novice hurdles before the grey's attentions are even turned to fences this term.
Israel Champ and First Lord De Cuet are unknown quantities and should also be tracked closely based on how they've adapted to life in Somerset.
From fine prospects to have bedded well back to the prospect of wedding bells, and who to invite to next summer’s nuptials?
"The problem you have," the happy couple agree, "is that you either go very big or really quite small, in which case you end up inviting only a tiny fraction of potential guests."
By the end of the brief conversation the latter option appears to be looking favourite, with one member of the party at least.
No more Mr nice guy? I have my doubts.
David Pipe stable tour
Vieux Lion Rouge – “He’ll probably run on Friday in a veterans’ race and while he’ll probably end up on the Grand National trail again, I’d say one of his main aims would be the veterans’ final at Sandown. Unfortunately the National trip just stretches him. I think he’s better than ever but I thought that last year and he didn’t quite perform. He might run in the Becher again as he was second in it last year from a higher mark.”
Ramses De Teillee – “They’ve changed the distance of the Welsh National this year as they’ve moved the start back a bit in a bid to help. So I think it’s up a furlong and a half to three miles, seven furlongs. But he’ll probably get an entry. What we’re thinking in that he might go novice hurdling this year. You never have an easy race from his sort of chase rating so why not go for a couple of easier races over hurdles? He’s still a nice over hurdles and you never know we might even consider taking him over to France.”
Eamon An Cnoic – “The aim would be to try and get him to the big Cheltenham meeting in November, either for the BetVictor Gold Cup or the big two-mile handicap chase at the same meeting. It’ll probably depend on the ground.”
Warthog – “He jumped absolutely brilliantly over fences at home and I never normally take a novice to Sandown first time out but he was superb. He’s nearly 17 hands but after that for some reason he just lost his bottle a bit. So we’ll go steadily with him but he’ll be running over two or two and a half miles and likes soft ground. He’s capable if he puts it all together.”
Dell’ Arca – “He’s been great. He was fourth in the Kerry National a couple of years ago so we had a little plan to go back there last month. The weights went up so Tom Scudamore was going to ride him but Scu got injured and David Noonan rode him but he fell at the eighth. He’s come out of that fine though thankfully.”
Remastered – “He might run at Chepstow on Saturday but could probably do with soft or heavy ground. A lovely, strapping six-year-old gelding, he was a good winner over hurdles at Ffos Las for us last season on heavy on his seasonal debut. He wasn’t at his best next time at Exeter, but rounded off the season with an excellent second behind a rapidly improving winner at Newbury. He could be contesting some of the better handicap hurdles this term. He will make a smashing chaser in time.”
Eden du Houx – “He is an exciting horse who won his only Irish point-to-point before joining us. He won a bumper at Plumpton in December before landing a Listed contest at Ascot, form which has worked out very well. He has strengthened up and looks well and should make an exciting novice hurdler for the season ahead.”
Israel Champ – “Yet to make his debut for the stable but he looks to be an exciting prospect based on his impressive Irish point-to-point success. A big, strong four-year-old, he has done very well over the summer and will probably start off in bumpers. He will jump hurdles in time but is very much a chaser in the making.”
Queens Cave – “Looked very good when winning a Uttoxeter bumper and improved again when a narrow runner-up in valuable Sandown race in March of last year. She disappointed on her only start last term when pulled-up on her hurdles debut at Ayr but was found to have a fibrillating heart beat post-race. She has been given sufficient time to recover and has shown no recurrence since, so I am very hopeful that she will be able to confirm the high opinion I have always had of her. The heart specialist came down and has given her the all clear to run.”
First Lord De Cuet – “He is part-owned by my father-in-law-to-be so I had to include him! In all seriousness, though, he looks a very nice horse for the coming campaign. A winner of his second start for the stable when bolting up in a Plumpton bumper, he has really shown the benefit of a summer at grass. He will go hurdling this season and should make an exciting novice in that sphere.”
Know The Score – “I’m looking forward to seeing how he gets on this season. A winner over hurdles at Hexham last season, he has always had the look of an exciting staying chaser and we will go down that route with him this season. He has schooled nicely over fences and will be at his best when the mud is flying.”
Umbrigado – “He’ll start off over hurdles and then might go novice chasing after that, we’ll have to see how he goes.”
Extra Mag – “He picked up an injury so is unlikely to be seen until the second half of the season.”
Poker Play – “Cheekpieces seemed to help last year and he won by nine lengths on heavy ground at Uttoxeter in March but went up a lot in the weights. He wears a hood every day at home but doesn’t need it in a race.”
Daklondike – “He’s very talented but very quirky. He’s rated 147 over fences and got beat off 118 when he last run over hurdles but the rules these days mean he’s now up to 139 over hurdles. It’s not the handicapper’s fault, it’s the system’s fault, but it can put owners off a bit. He’ll likely go down the long-distance route and might be a National type but you never know.”
Make Me A Believer – “He’s a nice Irish point-to-point recruit and he’s got entries in bumpers for us this weekend.”
For more updates from David Pipe visit the website here.