Racing: Our Vic's target remains a Pipe secret

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The Independent Online

It was parlour games again yesterday at the Pond House fun house of multiple champion trainer Martin Pipe.

The press pack had found their way to Nicholashayne with just one question - and perhaps there was room for only one - on their minds. Would Pipe run either Therealbandit or Our Vic in the Cheltenham Gold Cup? The trainer himself was determined not to answer one particular question and a coincidence seemed to be at play.

Even before Roger Cook knocked on the door, Pipe was a cagey customer and the dissembling has matured to an almost perfect level since. What is obvious is that both the Pond House novices, both of whom are owned by David Johnson, are animals of rare quality.

Pipe summed them up thus. "Therealbandit was terrible over hurdles to begin with. Useless," the trainer said. "He just couldn't jump. But, once he's seen the big fences, he's got his jumping together." That was until the Pillar Chase at Cheltenham, in which he fell four out. It is difficult to be definitive, but the seven-year-old would probably have finished second to Jair du Cochet that day. The form gives him Blue Riband place prospects. "It was an unlucky fall at Cheltenham," Pipe said. "We have schooled him since and he was fearless. He attacked them."

Our Vic collected the Reynoldstown Chase last month, a display his trainer considered to be as close to perfection as possible. It was, however, not entirely flawless, as the gelding jumped left-handed, though that will not be the problem at Cheltenham that it was at Ascot. "He's a lovely, quiet horse," Pipe said, albeit one who has been making plenty of noise on the gallops recently.

Our Vic could be supplemented at the five-day stage of the Gold Cup for £17,500, but it seems that is not going to happen. Pipe is not disingenuous when he says he believes Best Mate will win the big race. Connections believe Our Vic, the more natural jumper of their two celebrity novices and the better on recent gallops work, is their Best Mate for the future.

The Gold Cup is a big ask, the alternative of the Royal & SunAlliance Chase looks like a penalty kick, so Team Pipe may be going with the bigger certainty. The betting tide of the last few days, the money from those who should know, suggests so.

Glory and peril beckons for both the bright young stars. Even yesterday at Pond House, near the Somerset/Devon border, there was a reminder of the destruction that can be visited on even the best horses. There was an empty box which used to be the home of Shooting Light, who went out for the Racing Post Chase last Saturday but never came back.

It is usually Pipe's practice to fill up a box as soon as its occupant is killed, but the premises of the good ones are vacant shrines for some time in an act of remembrance. It was like this for Gloria Victis, who perished in the millennium Gold Cup.

For those who like to characterise Pipe as an exploiter of horses, who runs them into the ground with little thought for their long-term welfare, Gloria Victis is the biggest stick.

The six-year-old was still a novice when he did not make it at the second last. It is a moment which still troubles Pipe, even though he considers himself in no way culpable. "It's sad and it's not forgotten but it is gone," he said. "He was a brilliant jumper, better than either of this season's novices. Inexperience in any race doesn't help, but you do get youngsters that come along - like Boris Becker winning Wimbledon - so good novices can do these things."