A Pipe handicap plot is the stuff of legends. Few stables have the ability to prepare a horse for a specific race, especially if that horse has spent time on the side-lines.
As the Cheltenham Festival approaches David Pipe and his staff will be planning their assault, hoping for a repeat of last year’s successful four days, when Dynaste, Western Warhorse and Ballynagour brought the team a terrific treble. The yard has rarely looked in better shape with several likely to head to Prestbury Park as market leaders.
Dynaste looks sure to run in the Ryanair, attempting a repeat of last year’s success. He ran a belter in the Cotswold Chase last weekend, and may have gone even closer on better ground. But signs are that the team hoped for better and have now settled for a trip that plays to his strengths rather than one that exposes possible weaknesses.
Ballynagour was a stunning winner in the Byrne Group Plate 12 months ago and could well join Dynaste. Though officially rated over 10lbs lower he would be of considerable interest as an each-way proposition. Hidden Cyclone and Rajdhani Express filled the places in last year’s race off similar handicap marks. Menorah was rated a full 14lbs higher and trailed in down the field. Not seen since looking a non-stayer in the Hennessy, he won at last year’s festival off a similar break.
Kings Palace was disappointing in the Albert Bartlett last year, but has looked a future star over fences this term. Two from two since the switch, those wins came at Cheltenham and that experience is sure to be an advantage. Rightly towards the top of the betting for the RSA, he is likely to have a prep-run at Wetherby this weekend. Ground conditions appear to be key and he has to be one of the yard’s leading hopes for festival success.
The Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle is always one of the most competitive events and a true nightmare to predict. Hawk High won the race last year at 33/1, with the third and fourth coming home at 16’s and 25’s. David Pipe appears to have a strong challenger this time round with the French import Brook. Some way behind Karezak on his UK debut, he was very impressive next time at Newbury. Last year proved what a bookies benefit this race can be, but you have to buy a ticket to win the lottery.
But I started the piece by mentioning handicap plots, and one horse in particular now appears to be on a perfect mark to strike gold at Cheltenham. Dell’ Arca started the season over fences, but a lack of stature proved a telling disadvantage. Switched back to hurdles it seemed that he was then being groomed as a World Hurdle contender, but a non-stayer in the Long Walk at Ascot forced another rethink.
Given a rather circumspect ride in the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton, he looked back to his best when somehow failing to win off top-weight at Cheltenham last weekend when back over two miles. His handicap mark of 142 is now within a pound of last year’s, when fifth in the Coral Cup. Almost certain to have improved physically a year on, the question is which race will he turn-up in at the festival? A strongly run two-mile handicap looks ideal, and it would be no surprise to see him going very close in the Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle.
I’ve covered a few, but there’s sure to be more from a powerful looking Pond House team. Always a stable to follow on the big occasion, chances are that Cheltenham in March will provide another fruitful four days.