Racing: It Takes Time leads Pipe's quest for Power

The title of the race may change, but its dominating influence remains the same. It used to be called the Mackeson until fewer people drank the stuff, the Murphy's and then the Thomas Pink, which was appropriate for a sport in which the shirt can so easily be mislaid.

The two miles and four furlongs feature chase at Cheltenham on Saturday will be acknowledged, for the first time this year, as the Paddy Power Gold Cup. There are others surrounding the occasion with a far deeper pedigree, some of them four-legged, including Cyfor Malta, the winner of the race in 1998 and 12 months ago.

The 10-year-old's trainer is an even greater monument. Martin Pipe is going for his seventh Paddy Power or equivalent and his fourth in succession. It is not an assignment that has crept up on him. "When do you start planning for Cheltenham's Open meeting?" I asked the champion trainer in the dining room of his Pond House establishment last week. "I don't," he replied, in the sense that the plotting is an ongoing process which has not ceased since Beau Ranger won the race in 1987.

There was a display of horses that day, his possibles and probables for the Open meeting, and even then slight clues of which would be the Nicholashayne army at the first significant meeting of the National Hunt season.

Pipe withdrew Seebald, Wahiba Sands and Montreal from the £110,000 main race yesterday, but still has Cyfor Malta, It Takes Time, Horus and Tarxien on parade. Unless he was taking advantage of some city folk last Thursday it seems likely that the first two will demand the attention of Tony McCoy and that ultimately he will ride It Takes Time. But it will be the champion jockey's choice. A year ago, Pipe insisted that McCoy should ride Chicuelo, who got back just in time to witness the presentation for Cyfor Malta's victory and Barry Geraghty's coronation.

Poliantas, Wave Rock and Foly Pleasant, who finished second, third and fourth respectively to Cyfor Malta 12 months ago, are all set to renew rivalry. Foly Pleasant, who was also second to the Pipe-trained Shooting Light two years ago, is one of two acceptors from Henrietta Knight's Wantage yard, the other being Midland Flame.

Poliantas's trainer, Paul Nicholls, can also call on the former Pipe-trained duo of Royal Auclair and Exit Swinger to strengthen his party. Other fancied runners standing their ground include the Nicky Henderson-trained Fondmort and Henry Daly's Young Spartacus.

Firm ground has put paid to Friday's traditional centrepiece, the cross-country race, but the Sunday card appears as strong as ever, with some of the best young chasers in the land showing up for the Independent Newspaper Novices' Chase, a contest that has in the recent past provided us with Best Mate and Azertyuiop.

Pipe has an input into the other signature race on the Sunday card, the Greatwood Hurdle, in which Westender, the winner of the corresponding race two years ago, has been allocated top weight after the defections of Rooster Booster, Rhinestone Cowboy and Flame Creek.

There are six others from Pond House, and the one to concentrate on here is Well Chief, who incurs a 6lb penalty for his victory at Wincanton on Saturday. That will do nicely as Pipe finds himself, as he puts it, "in control of the weights".

It was confirmed yesterday that the first season of one of the most celebrated horses in Europe this year is about to be blighted. The Jockey Club have announced that Roger Charlton's Three Valleys failed a post-race drugs test after winning the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket last month.

"The B sample has not been done yet, so it's just a preliminary positive," Owen Byrne, a Jockey Club spokesman, said yesterday. "We won't confirm it as a positive until after the B sample has been returned to us. It could be several weeks before we get the result, as the samples go abroad."

Three Valleys has tested positive for clenbuterol, which may have been in his system after the colt received medication for mucus in his lungs. "He was withdrawn from veterinary treatment nine days before the guidelines [veterinary and Jockey Club], which suggest that six and a half days should be a safe period for clenbuterol," Charlton said.

Independent Newspaper Novices' Chase (Cheltenham, Sunday) six-day declarations: Anxious Moments (trained by C Swan, Irl); Atum Re (P Webber); Forrestfield (J Mulhern, Irl); Genuine Article (M Pitman); Golden Row (E O'Grady, Irl); Kalca Mome (P Hobbs); Le Duc (P Nicholls); Niagara (M Tompkins); Puntal (M Pipe); Ryders Storm (T George); Santenay (P Nicholls); Tanikos (N Henderson); Thisthatandtother (P Nicholls).

Paddy Power Gold Cup (Cheltenham, Saturday) Ladbrokes latest prices: 4-1 It Takes Time, 5-1 Fondmort, 6-1 Poliantas, 8-1 Young Spartacus, 9-1 Master Tern, 10-1 Brother Joe, Cyfor Malta, 11-1 Risk Accessor, 14-1 Foly Pleasant, Iris Royal, Tarxien, 16-1 Horus, Midland Flame, 20-1 others.