16 December 2007

Making a  father’s banner your own is a difficult and often thankless business. But after 18 months in charge of father Martin’s training stables, David Pipe is his own man with his own big-race double at a Cheltenham cold enough to attract any polar bears dissatisfied with the Arctic ice flows.

True, both Tamarinbleu and Osana made the running as the Martin Pipe runners did in those great early days when Peter Scudamore used to set off at a pace the others dare not follow. But these were tactical rather than mould-breaking rides, and while Scudamore’s son, Tom, is now David’s stable jockey, a dislocated shoulder left him an admiring spectator while Denis O’Regan and Paddy Brennan made the pace on Tamarinbleu and Osana respectively.

“I am so delighted for David,” said Tom, who resumes on Friday. “While Martin is always around the place, there is no question that this is David’s operation. People should remember that he trained over 150 point-to-point winners before taking over.” Scudamore has been putting in all sorts of extra fitness training and that Pipe trademark certainly applied to Tamarinbleu, who was running for the first time since winning at Perth in June.

The other Pipe runner, Abragante, was much better backed than the 22-1 winner but he jumped as if his blinkers had got across his eyes and a disappointed A P McCoy had to pull him up before halfway. New Little Bric, the big fancy to continue the Paul Nicholls-Sam Thomas Saturday bonanza, ran equally badly to draw an official two-word explanation from the rider of “never going”. Which was the exact reverse of what happened to little Tamarinbleu, from whom O’Regan was getting a merry tune from the start.

It was the young Irishman’s first ride for Pipe but one he took with the aplomb of the man who stepped in to win the Galway Plate for Dermot Weld on Ansar two summers ago. “He’s some little horse,” said O’Regan, “he had nearly top weight but I was always travelling. He’s as tough as nails.”

The way a horse sets his head and neck when the going gets tough is one of the absolute keys in racing. Tamarinbleu and bottom-weight Patman Du Charmil had kept up the gallop enough to stretch the pursuing pack and when Tamarinbleu came on clear to the last you could see the resolution running through him. New Little Bric’s 25-1 stable companion, Le Volfoni, chased gallantly but this was Tamarinbleu’s day .

It took little more than 30 minutes for Osana to emphasise that this was very much Pipe’s hour. Unlike Tamarinbleu, this horse had run just a month ago but despite a good second on that occasion, he was fifth choice in the betting and still 33-1 for the Champion Hurdle by the time the tapes went up and Brennan set him off into a lead which he was to hold to the winning line. Within seconds the bookmakers were scribbling on their pads to give us Osana as short as 6-1 for the Champion Hurdle, behind only last season’s winner, Sublimity, who moved up menacingly before lack of fitness saw him fade to finish fourth.

In March Osana had led the County Hurdle field a great gallop only to concede rapidly after the final flight. Only five years old and having started his career winning at Longchamp for Francois Doumen, he is a progressive horse with an enviable profile and an unspectacular but efficient way of crossing a hurdle. The trainers of both Katchit and Sublimity talked well of the big day in March but poor Jessie Harrington had only tears. Her star hurdler, Mac’s Joy, close second in the 2006 Champion to Brave Inca, broke his tibia so badly after the fourth hurdle that euthanasia was the only option.

Days like these can chill the heart but for O’Regan yesterday was the sort of afternoon that every jockey has to dream of. For the win on Tamarinbleu followed directly on what could be a career-defining victory on Tidal Bay. Tamarinbleu may have been a chance ride for an outside stable but Tidal Bay was an odds-on favourite and major flag carrier for the Graham Wylie-Howard Johnson combination whom he has joined this season. This was one that had to win.

O’Regan, 24, is unfamiliar enough to most British race-watchers to attract criticism for the quietness of his style. But he was in great demand in Ireland before accepting the Wylie job and, watching closely yesterday, it was easy to see why. For, even in the high-pressure environment of a fast-gallop novice chase there is a calmness about him. Tidal Bay clouted the first fence and didn’t look entirely safe at a couple of others but O’Regan remained unruffled. He kept close to the pace-setting Gold Medallist (who hadn’t run for almost a thousand days) took over at the second last and got a decisive leap at the final fence to reinforce his claims as favourite for the Sun Alliance Chase here in March.

Trainer Johnson talked of possibly aiming for the Arkle Chase instead. Whether the shorter trip and more hustling gallop would be better for the horse might be open to question. What should no longer be is the ability of the man in the saddle.

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