Punters are kept guessing by Pipe

Martin Pipe provided precisely no assistance yesterday to punters pondering the trickiest race of the weekend, tomorrow's William Hill Handicap Hurdle at Sandown. The champion trainer, who does so well in this type of race, on Monday entered a quintet of possible runners for the £50,000 contest and yesterday refused to clarify his running plans.

Martin Pipe provided precisely no assistance yesterday to punters pondering the trickiest race of the weekend, tomorrow's William Hill Handicap Hurdle at Sandown. The champion trainer, who does so well in this type of race, on Monday entered a quintet of possible runners for the £50,000 contest and yesterday refused to clarify his running plans.

His typical block entry - only Aidan O'Brien on the Flat loads more ammunition into his scatter gun - has resulted in leading bookmakers other than the sponsors declining to risk opening an ante-post book on the race.

The problem for punters is that weight of money indicates that two of Pipe's five entries have live chances. His Cheltenham winner Rodock, a novice who has the potential to emulate the trainer's Make A Stand by graduating through the handicap ranks to the Champion Hurdle, was put in as the 2-1 favourite but has still attracted money and is now down to 7-4. Meanwhile Pipe's Copeland was cut from 13-2 to 11-2 yesterday, having started the week at 10-1

Speaking at Wincanton yesterday, Pipe's less than helpful contribution was: "Tony McCoy goes to Sandown on Saturday and I suppose we'll have to find him a ride in the race.

"I understand Copeland has been heavily backed but by who I don't know as they are only guessing - I haven't made my mind up as to what runs.

"As always, there are the owners to consider [Hit And Run, Miss Fara and Star Of Dungannon are his other entries]. I will speak to them tonight and make up my mind in the morning."

One jockey booking that is certain, though is that of McCoy for Henrietta Knight's Edredon Bleu in the Tingle Creek Chase 35 minutes before the big hurdle. Jim Culloty, Knight's stable jockey, has partnered the seven-year-old in both his races this season, but the gelding's trainer has reaffirmed that Edredon Bleu will always be McCoy's ride if he is available.

Carl Llewellyn, who returned to race-riding only yesterday at Leicester after being stood down for three weeks with concussion following a fall at Ludlow, has landed the ride on Celibate in the Tingle Creek.

A ludicrous clash in timing between the Tingle Creek and Chepstow's feature, the Rehearsal Chase, has been averted after the intervention of the British Horseracing Board.

Both races were scheduled to start at 2.30pm, but yesterday the BBC agreed to a switch which will mean the Rehearsal is run at 2.35pm.

The BHB Chief Executive, Tristram Ricketts, said: "We are extremely grateful to the BBC for the flexibility that they have shown. The BBC have acted in good faith throughout and it is wrong to suggest, as one newspaper did this morning, that they were to blame for the potential clash.''

David Nicholson's training career, which has spanned over 30 years, came to an end yesterday when Castle Owen finished third to Storm Of Gold in a Market Rasen novices' chase.

Nicholson, who handed over the reins of his Jackdaws Castle training establishment to his assistant of 12 years, Alan King, from midnight last night, first took out a licence to train in 1968 after being a successful jockey when he rode over 600 winners, the best of which was Mill House in the 1967 Whitbread Gold Cup.

It was King who represented his mentor at the Lincolnshire track, with Nicholson having said his farewells at Plumpton on Wednesday.

King said: "It's a shame he couldn't finish on a winner but the horse jumped into the back of Storm Of Gold at the last ditch which didn't help."

King starts as a fully-fledged trainer at Sandown today when he saddles Zafarabad and Baronet. One of the stars in his care is the Hennessy Gold Cup runner-up, Spendid, and he added: "Spendid is fine - A1 - after the Hennessy. The King George VI Chase is a possibility for him."

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