CHAMPION PIPE COMES UNDER FIRE

24 April 2005

The demands he put on his horses in the race for trainers’ prize was `outrageous’, says RSPCA

It should have been the crowning afternoon of one of the greatest of jumping seasons; instead it was the day that racing lost its head. The Irish horse Jack High took the Betfred Gold Cup, Tony McCoy landed his 200th winner and his 10th riding championship, Well Chief beat Azertyuiop, but Martin Pipe’s celebration of a 15th training crown and the sport’s appreciation of his achievement was soured by understandable outrage at the demands he set two of his horses in the first race.

Top weight Commercial Flyer was running for the third time in three days. What’s more, his Thursday and Friday victories were up at Perth from which he made the 450-mile journey back down to his home base near Taunton before trekking eastwards another 120 miles to Sandown. After moving up to challenge two hurdles out he faded to finish, not surprisingly, a leg-weary fifth.

If that concerns you, and the RSPCA’s chief racing welfare officer David Muir called it “outrageous”, the case of another Pipe runner, Sindapour, was even more disturbing. This seven-year-old took a heavy fall at the last hurdle in the six o’clock race at Newton Abbot on Friday, yet here it was struggling round the back having its bottom smacked before finishing tailed off in the first race. Martin Pipe is a remarkable man and the most successful trainer in jumping history. But, to put it mildly, this was not his finest hour.

For in his battle with Paul Nicholls in the trainers’ championship he had declared no less than nine horses (three later withdrawn) for this opening handicap hurdle, thereby ensuring that the Nicholls horse The Persuader was denied an entry. The whole thing was cynical beyond belief and what’s worse all officialdom could do was to ring its hands and mutter “there is no rule against it.” Which means that unless a vet can find a horse sick or lame beforehand there is nothing to prevent a repetition of yesterday.

“This sort of action,” said David Muir, “cannot be conducive to horse welfare. When the RSPCA complained about horses running two days in succession a few years ago we were told it would hardly ever happen. We shall most certainly be taking this up at the next veterinary committee.” This is supervised by the Jockey Club’s Peter Webbon who has long held the view that no jump horse should be allowed to run on consecutive days. If new rules are not implemented racing will deserve the ordure that will hit the fan.

The lack of official action was echoed in other areas of what ought to be a milestone afternoon when a long jumping season is finally put to bed and celebrated. But less than 24 hours after the Betfred Gold Cup, won with a splendid late surge by the Ted Walsh-trained Jack High, a new season starts with a claiming hurdle at Ludlow this afternoon. The British Horseracing Board’s marketing consultancies should hang their heads in shame.

If there was any sense at all, this `premier’ jumping season would end with the Betfred Gold Cup and be followed by a Gala Awards dinner. A full week’s lull should be imposed before a separate `Summer Jumping’ season embarks until its closure in September. There is a big chance to put jumping’s marketing house in order. The current one needs kicking. Most of all because there is indeed so much to celebrate. Pipe and Nicholls (privately seething but sensibly tight-lipped) are both tremendous trainers. McCoy’s 10th title was among his most meritorious because it was achieved without the Martin Pipe production line.

Highest credit among his opponents must go to Ruby Walsh, whose 81 winners over here were eclipsed by another 114 in his native Ireland, bringing his total earnings to over £3.5 million; more than a million more than McCoy himself. Just for once Ruby had to put up with a winnerless afternoon at Sandown, most gallingly when star two-miler Azertyuiop was handsomely outpointed by Well Chief and Timmy Murphy.

It was Well Chief’s seventh and best run of the season. He has taken beatings from Moscow Flyer and Azertyuiop, both collectively and individually, and yet come back for more. He is absolute proof of the greatness of his trainer Martin Pipe. And of the unhappy, unnecessary nonsense in the first race yesterday.

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