As one of the great pioneers of his profession, of course, Pipe can make his own rules, and he has a particularly good record at this fixture. Celtic Son, moreover, contested five hurdle races in 12 days last January, winning four of them, albeit he was extremely well treated at the time. His owner, David Johnson, says that they have a superior prospect in Over The Creek, but those who saw Celtic Son at Wincanton will believe that when they see it. You very seldom see a horse tackle his first steeplechase with such brio.
Certainly a similar performance would set a legitimate standard for the SunAlliance Chase here in March - for which race Michael Hourigan is also sending Church Island on reconnaissance. "I suppose Celtic Son will take a bit of beating," the Co Limerick trainer acknowledged yesterday. "But we're taking our horse over for the experience, and if he can just get round it will do him the power of good. He's very big, maybe 16.3 hands, and has always been crying out for fences. He's really getting his act together now, and a big course like Cheltenham will suit him better than the sharp tracks he was running round during the summer. In honesty it was a moderate race at Clonmel last time, but he had to make his own running, which wouldn't have suited him. Somehow I don't think that will be necessary this time!"
Hourigan retains plenty of faith in Beef Or Salmon, who last season fell prey to the virus that reduced the stable to just four winners between January and June. Unfortunately he was denied a run at Down Royal on Saturday by a bomb scare and was then unable to run on the Flat at Leopardstown the next day after banging his head. By this stage Hourigan - who will now run him against Kicking King at Haydock tomorrow week - was doing much the same himself. "Still, we were put in this world to be tried," he said.
That is certainly the opinion of the Taunton stewards, who yesterday decided that Sergeant Pepper had not been ridden with sufficient purpose when fifth in the maiden hurdle and gave Leighton Aspell a seven-day suspension.
Today Pipe can lay down his marker for this meeting in its opening race with BuenaVista (1.15), who has been freshened up for this. Paul Nolan considers French Accordion, a brother to Accordion Etoile, more of a chasing type but the Irish should nonetheless have their say during the afternoon.
Tiger Cry (2.25), second in the Galway Hurdle in the summer, could be even better over fences and looks on a seductive weight for his handicap debut, while the raiders have an especially strong hand in the cross-country race. Spot Thedifference harvested all three races staged over this circuit last season, but he may be usurped by a younger horse from his own stable. Good Step (3.0) showed an aptitude for this kind of idiosyncratic challenge when winning over the banks at Punchestown.Reuse content