Racing: Punters lured in by Pipe's Londoner

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Such is the betting public's faith in Martin Pipe that the plunge on his stable's Londoner for the Triumph Hurdle stepped up in pace yesterday even though the gelding has not yet cleared a hurdle in public.

Such is the betting public's faith in Martin Pipe that the plunge on his stable's Londoner for the Triumph Hurdle stepped up in pace yesterday even though the gelding has not yet cleared a hurdle in public.

The four-year-old, who is entered at Taunton tomorrow and Kempton on Saturday, was placed in Listed company on the Flat and sold out of Henry Cecil's yard for 100,000gns to David Johnson at the Newmarket November Sales. Still available at 16-1 a few days ago, he was yesterday cut to 10-1 from 14-1 by the Tote and from 12-1 by Coral and is now clear favourite for the juvenile championship at the Cheltenham Festival.

Prizeman was another smart Flat racer to attract interest in the betting for the Triumph yesterday, being backed in to 16-1 from 25-1 with William Hill. However, he is still reported to be a fortnight away from his first run over timber although has been given a clean bill of health after chipping a bone in a fetlock on his final appearance for Richard Hannon at Newmarket in July.

"He is absolutely full of himself and he's coming along fine," Harry Herbert, spokesman for Prizeman's owners, Highclere Thorougbreds, said.

The four-year-old has joined Nicky Henderson, who trained Highclere's 2000 Triumph Hurdle fourth, Architect, and Herbert added: "He has done his first pieces of work and Nicky is very, very pleased with him."

Chimes At Midnight, who was third behind Millenary in the 2000 St Leger, is to embark on a jumping campaign which could culminate in an attempt at the Champion Hurdle. His ever-audacious Curragh-based trainer, Luke Comer, said: "He's had a few months off but he is back now. He jumps very well at home and he will probably go for a hurdling trial [schooling] race in the next couple of weeks. Then we will keep an eye out for a maiden hurdle with a small field."

Air Marshall, who finished a place ahead of Chimes At Midnight in the Doncaster Classic, is being prepared for a hurdling career by Nicky Henderson.

Noel Chance is leaning towards Wincanton's John Bull Chase and away from Haydock's Peter Marsh Chase for Looks Like Trouble's eagerly anticipated return to action on Saturday. An early decision would certainly help Channel 4. They are due to cover Kempton and Catterick on Saturday but are negotiating with Wincantons so that the John Bull can fit into their schedule.

The 2000 Gold Cup winner, now a 10-year-old, has not raced through injury since an easy win at Down Royal in November of his Gold Cup year, but has emerged satisfactorily from a racecourse gallop at Huntingdon on Friday.

"There's a drop of rain forecast for Wincanton which should suit us just fine," Chance said: "Looks Like Trouble is 100 per cent at the moment and I'm keeping my fingers crossed."

The old system of backing a jockey who has announced his final ride paid off tidily yesterday when Tim Reed ended his career aboard the 12-1 winner Kerry Lads at Carlisle. Reed had told the world the day before that he was waiting to go out on a winner and the starting-price was surprisingly generous.

Backing horses that have been switched to Venetia Williams's stable is not a bad system either, particularly with the Herefordshire trainer in such flying form. Yesterday, Mystere, having her first run for the yard and after more than a year off the racecourse, landed a touch at Folkestone. Available at 7-1 off-course in the morning, she was backed down to 7-2.

"We've had this race in mind for her for about three weeks and it's very rare when everything comes together so successfully," Williams said. "Her owners have had to be very patient and I'm pleased for them."

* The Champion Hurdle outsider Arctic Owl will work after racing at Huntingdon today. James Fanshawe's Irish St Leger winner, who has not been out since a fifth in the Melbourne Cup in November 2000, is a best-priced 20-1 chance with the Tote for Cheltenham.

* The leading German jockey Andrasch Starke has been banned from riding until July by the stewards of the Hong Kong Jockey Club after failing a drugs test taken at Sha Tin.

TRIUMPH HURDLE (Cheltenham 14 March): Coral: 10-1 (from 12-1) Londoner, 14-1 Le Roi Miguel, Tempo D'Or, 20-1 Green Ideal, Turtleback, Sud Bleu, 25-1 others. Tote: 10-1 Londoner, 12-1 Tempo D'Or, 20-1 Le Roi Miguel, 25-1 others. William Hill: 10-1 Londoner, 12-1 Tempo D'Or, 16-1 Prizeman, 20-1 Green Ideal, Turtleback, 25-1 others.