Racing: Pipe backed to be champion again

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The Independent Online

The French have a phrase for it: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, which, as anyone in the snug of the Prince Albert pub in Windsor will be able to tell you, means, "the more things change, the more they stay the same".

This could be the motto for this jumping season, on which the tassled curtain will descend at Sandown on Saturday. For a long time it appeared this latest campaign would be one to usher in a sea change among trainers. But, ultimately, it is going to be ol' man river Martin Pipe rolling on for yet another championship.

Each year seems to offer Paul Nicholls the tantalising prospect of beating his great inter-county rival and each year the younger man suggests the title is no big deal. He says it matters little, at the same time conveying the impression it matters as much as the continuation of his heartbeats.

Pipe is unusual as a person and as a sports participant, in this country at least, in that he never shows any sign of fallibility or weakness. The Americans would love the character for whom winning is one long habit.

The day he loses the title it will not be one to be around the little man. Late last year Pipe told The Independent that he feared his grip on the table might be slipping. "We have a different kind of yard this year," he said. "There are a lot more younger horses: ones for the future rather than the present."

It seemed like a pre-emptive emotional strike at the time, an early excuse for why the Pond House hegemony might be on the wane. Now it stands as a rather forbidding statement for those who seek to tip Pipe off his throne. With the like of Our Vic and Therealbandit around, the Somerset man will be around for some time yet.

The Pipe methodology is not everyone's chosen route. More than most National Hunt trainers, he believes horses to be an immediate commodity, something to be utilised until the magic has been squeezed out. The old school may not like it, preferring a less hectic career, but Pipe's results would be proof enough for him.

Along the way he makes others winners as well, Tony McCoy especially. Like the trainer himself, McCoy may not be the prettiest, but has nothing in front when it comes to effectiveness. McCoy, Pipe and David Johnson, the yard's principal owning patron, will each pick up their seasonal awards at Esher on Saturday.

Given this perspective it was puzzling to see Nicholls quoted as Ladbrokes' 11-10 favourite for the new season, the one which now starts while the other one is still having earth scattered over it. The firm's scatty thinking was that Nicholls had come so close this season that he would be particularly determined to correct matters next.

Ladbrokes received a swift repudiation of that notion when a lumpy bet of £20,000 at 11-8 (call trace probably somewhere in the Somerset area) came winging in for Pipe yesterday. He is now 5-4 joint-favourite with Nicholls for the 2004-2005 season, which might still be quite generous if you consider he is about to win his 14th championship to compare with his rival's nil.