It was 25 years ago last month: a first visit to Martin Pipe’s home base in Somerset. It was unpretentious, unfamiliar and what was happening on the gallops suggested that we had entered a whole new era in the way jumpers were trained. We had.
A quarter of a century later the revolution is long complete and everyone else has their own version of the short burst “interval-training” with which Martin Pipe and his record-smashing jockey Peter Scudamore broke the mould. But while the indoor school, the swimming pool, the once infamous laboratory and the uphill five furlong all weather strip beside the road out of Nicolshayne have long become standard in big race TV previews, a sense of rural, family unpretentiousness remains. It’s just that time, and the generations, and the challenges have moved on.
Back in 1990 it would have been possible to believe that Martin’s beanpole son David cutting his teeth in point to point saddle could have succeeded his father. But it would have stretched the imagination to think that David would by now be 850 winners and £11.5 million in to his own career and fully accepted as captain of the ship with his father as a wise-cracking aide not an interfering “in my day” hindrance to operations. That imagination would have passed snapping point if told that Tom Scudamore, Peter’s then eager, pony-riding eight year old would be firmly installed as stable jockey with a seasonal hundred winners already clocked by January. We’d have heard of nepotism but this would be ridiculous.
But the Pipes have always mixed family warmth with competitive intensity. Back in 1990, Dave Pipe, Martin’s ultra shrewd father, surveyed the scene with the bookmaker’s eye that had made him the master of the ring and built a West Country betting shop empire long before others realised their potential. It was Dave who gave Martin a blue Rolls Royce, number plate MCP1. To outsiders this looked like a millstone round an aspirant child’s neck. To Dave there was logic. Later he gave Martin a helicopter with the simple blessing – “it’s to make you work harder.”
History has been the witness to the obsessively inquisitive work ethic with which M.C.Pipe tore up the training manual. But back then suspicion soured the admiration. The little, limping (Martin’s thigh never fully recovered from a horrible fracture point to pointing), bookie’s son from Taunton was making a fool of his fellow trainers and they did not like it. Race after race would follow the same pattern. Peter Scudamore charging to the front on the Pipe runner that invariably looked lean and scrawny beside its rivals. The field would close up in the final stages only for Pipe/Scudamore to surge again and another winner would be notched for the unlikely team in Nicolashayne. “It’s a disgrace,” the carpers cried. “The horses look dreadful. It isn’t natural. Anyway he’s got a laboratory in the yard. Of course he is giving them something.”
Peter Scudamore was already a prince of the game. His father was not a reviled bookie but a revered Grand National winning jockey. “There’s no secret,” he said, “the horses are just fitter. Go down and see for yourself.” Which is how, 25 years ago last month (have I told you that?) I was met at Tiverton Parkway by Martin and Carol in the MCP1 Rolls driven by table tennis legend, Pipe ADC, and master of the revels Chester Barnes. Next morning was one of the most revelatory of my racing life and when I had finished seeing everything from the all weather strip to the laboratory I wrote a piece for the Sunday Times. The first sentence read, “When will the losers learn?”
This time there was no Chester Barnes , he was readying himself in Brixham for his 68th birthday party on the morrow but remains a constant in the Pipe entourage as readers of the website will need no reminding. In his place at the wheel was the tall, slightly balding figure of David Pipe who somehow squares the circle of being affectionate son, admiring acolyte and unchallenged operational head. Back in the then there was an undercurrent of explanation and justification about a Pipe conversation. On Monday there was Dorset crab in a Somerset pub. There didn’t need to be explanation. Just proof of ambition.
Anyone about at 5.30 next morning would have seen it. Unlike most of his top line peers David Pipe is up at that hour to do the feeding. “I just like to be around them,” he says. He is not only at the wheel of the truck as we go up to the gallops, he is very evidently in charge with his father as a support act. The horses come spinning up the bank and, shock horror, come hacking back down again just as they did a quarter of a century ago. The well-minted stories get re-told. How Tim Forster, dyed-in-the-wool, old school, slow, long exercise trainer, watched the routine and said “is that it? Do you realise I have spent my entire life doing exactly the wrong thing? ” David Pipe leaves us to watch the horses file back while he changes jockeys for schooling. Cue, all too often in such cases, for father to moan about son even if only to say “he must ease off a little.” It didn’t come.
Instead Martin stumps across to joke with the passing string; riders who have been there from the beginning, women who taught David at school, and the now venerable figure of Richard Dennis who as a claiming jockey landed a notable stable coup on a slight filly called Millfield Royal in the otherwise long forgotten Hound Tor Opportunity Novice Selling Hurdle at Newton Abbot in February 1983. It was my first sight of Martin and Chester up close. They looked like a pair worth watching. It’s good to get some things right.
Tom Scudamore was in the saddle for schooling, David Pipe watching through the fast moving car window, the concentration calm, the intensity unspoken. He and Scudamore go back twenty years and he has watched the other legend’s son beaver away to finally become a major jockey in his own right not a slighter version of his famous father or someone hobbled by impossible comparisons with Peter Scudamore’s Pipe stable successor, one A.P. McCoy. At the end of the schooling session trainer and jockey confer with little more than a shrug and a nod. “Tom and I understand each other,” says David. It shows.
On the way back to the office he talks of how he was uninterested in the riding part of the game until catching the point-to-point bug in his late teens and being despatched to Grand National winner Jimmy Frost on Exmoor for tuition. “When I arrived there and said I had never jumped a fence Jimmy didn’t believe me,” chuckles David. “But he did once he saw me in action.”
Despite that tardy start and a frame better equipped for basket ball, David rode some thirty winners himself and, more importantly, logged over a hundred successes in his own right as a point to point trainer. “It was a great experience,” he said “and it meant I was making my mistakes rather under the radar.” He is easy under the questioning, a touch weary where his father was wary, aware that you know that he knows that you know what his answers will be.
He always wanted to be a trainer and while Martin’s emotional retirement nine years ago this April shocked the wider racing world, David was ready for it. “Dad had not been very well and I had been doing a lot of the training anyway,” he says. “So I was lucky that the whole thing was pretty seamless and having Festival winners and then the National with Comply Or Die was a big help to us. But things change. DJ (big owner David Johnson) passed away, the recession was difficult but we are building up a really good team again and of course Cheltenham is all important.”
David Pipe talks about “making some adjustments” but finds it as hard to specify them as the observer would be to find them. What certainly remains is the sense of team involvement as he talks to Rosie Clarke about “her horse” King’s Palace, the marvellously promising novice chaser whose RSA Chase entry will be one of the spearheads of an almost 20 strong Festival team which will include Dynaste’s attempt at a second Ryanair Chase, former French star Un Temps Pour Tout’s pitch at the World Hurdle and a whole host of others for whom the handicap weights are keenly awaited.
“I love all the planning,” he says as we drive up to see more horses on the gallops and watch Tom Scudamore trying to prevent one inmate dramatically altering course to port every time it crossed a hurdle. “Of course there is a lot of pressure in all the build up to Cheltenham but there is a great buzz about it too. That’s why we do this, the horses, the people, we are all trying to get it together.” When we get back to the office the phone is ringing and the vet is waiting, but so too is Martin. He wants to show me things. The old and the new.
He is 68 now but his driven genius has always been tempered by an engaging, almost childish simplicity. There is delight in his eyes as he opens up the special sewing room, “all stitching for tack and kit can now be done on site.” There is smiling mischief in trapping you for a photo shoot on his new mechanical horse and there is nothing less than impish delight as he unveils the latest family wheeze, giant photographic murals of tree lined scenes placed on the wall of a horse’s box to give it both light and pastoral comfort. “Mary Bromiley (the renowned equine physio) and David thought it up,” Martin says happily. “Horses definitely react to it. They go and stand by the trees.”
Other assets are more familiar: the big horse walker with the disinfectant spray which Martin invented, the circular two furlong covered ride and the loose-school jumping ring where, over their introductory fortnight, Pipe horses will have leapt a thousand obstacles before they jump with a jockey on their back. Most striking of all are the ultra clean feedhouse and the laboratory where the ever present Barry Allen has come up with a new test.
Back in 1990 Barry and his blood tests were at the heart of the most controversial part of Martin’s avowed intent “to take the guess work out of training.” Every horse would have its weight, temperature and blood patterns, taken on a regular basis to give the trainer an index card where he can chart its exact details for every run. 25 years ago that card had data enough but in the last couple of seasons Barry Allen has pioneered a new “SAL” test which gives the most accurate picture yet of a horse’s well being and, crucially, its freedom from developing infection.
On the way to Taunton it’s not infection but lack of backable form that would seem the problem for the five Pipe runners in the two divisions of the novice hurdle. The stable pair finish as expected or slightly worse in the first division as do two of the three runners in the second where the “nothing makes a fool of you like a horse” maxim is splendidly executed when the previously disappointing Border Breaker sets off in front and makes all the running, something he had signally failed to do when tried with the same tactics 12 days earlier. It was the 81st winner of David Pipe’s ninth training season and promptly had him in front of the stewards for Border Breaker’s apparent improvement. It was little fish time but also present at Taunton was Professor Caroline Tisdall the owner of two of the “also rans”. She has already been a big fish in several fields and has no intention of being a minnow in the racing pond.
“What I love is the sense of freedom and rural political incorrectness about the whole experience,” says Caroline as she sits in the teeming Taunton bar with her friend Gaye Scoullar whose horse had run only marginally better than the Tisdall flyer in the first division of the Novice Hurdle. A distinguished writer and art historian in her other life, Caroline is also a council member and ardent campaigner for the Countryside Alliance and with inherited funds at her disposal gives every indication of being one of the best friends jump racing, let alone the Pipe family, have ever had.
With typical academic discipline she first tested her Pipe theory with a small share and finding it effective, educational and fun, has been prepared to back it with real money. She shelled out €280,000 for the Greatwood winner Dell Arca and then joined fellow owner Bryan Drew in the £450,000 purchase of Un Temps Pour Tout. “What people don’t know is the charm of it all,” she says. “Martin and Carol take a lot of trouble to get us all involved and the whole experience is wonderfully inclusive. People might imagine that Martin is trying to run everything still but David is very much his own man and I very much like the father son relationship. I also like to do things well and to get to the very top David is going to need support. The Pipes were actually offered Un De Sceaux before Willie Mullins, did not have an owner to take it. I am hoping that Bryan Drew and I can change some of that.”
Around us ruddy faces and farming talk continue on their timeless way as the commentator tells of the runners going to the start of the three mile chase. Martin Pipe may have caused a revolution but twenty five years on his greatest legacy could yet be a family one.