Racing / Cheltenham Festival: Granville champions Pipe's claim to place among elite

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The Independent Online
MARTIN PIPE, National Hunt racing's most prolific trainer, finally banished the notion that he did not have the capacity to win championship races when Granville Again won the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival yesterday.

Granville Again, a 13-2 chance, beat the unfancied Royal Derbi and Halkopous, but most of all he beat back the whisperers who suggested Pipe's yard could only excel in jumping's lower grades.

'Everyone has said we couldn't win a championship race,' Pipe said. 'They can't say that now.'

Pipe's pleasure was heightened by the fact that many had considered Granville Again flawed after three unproductive runs this season and signs that he was not the most robust of competitors.

Even Mark Perrett, who rode the runner-up, thought Granville Again might exhibit frailty on the run-in as Royal Derbi bore down on him. 'I half expected him to throw it in,' he said. 'But it never happened.'

Pipe peeled off his post-race comments with a fluidity which suggested his acceptance speech had been practised some time before. 'This horse has plenty of ability but was just a bit off colour earlier in the season,' he said. 'But he battled well today and proved everybody wrong.'

This was a 150th win of the season for the Wellington trainer, who is well on his way to a fifth successive jumping title, but he revealed that Granville Again's victory owed much to the advice of a former champion trainer, Michael Dickinson, who now operates in Maryland.

While visiting the man who saddled the first five home in the 1983 Gold Cup, Pipe was advised to give Granville Again a complete rest before bringing him back for the Champion.

When the horse was returned to the gallops, messages that he was back to his best began to circulate, though Peter Scudamore, the stable jockey, was still expected to ride the yard's Valfinet.

But, last Monday, unavoidable evidence was produced on the gallops. 'I was always going towards Valfinet, but I rode Granville Again at home last week and he sparkled. He was good without being over-relaxed. In fact, he was so good he was worrying.'

The positive messages were there again in yesterday's race as Granville Again settled in a field which included his full brother, Morley Street, the winner of this race in 1991.

'He was going so well that I wondered if anything was there,' the champion jockey said. 'Then I tapped him to make sure and he was immediately on the bridle. Everything kept opening up for me as I was coming down the hill, the way it always seems to when you're going well.'

The decisive burst came just after the turn into the straight, and Royal Derbi's late surge was unable to prevent a Scudamore victory and punch of delight as he crossed the line.

'That was as much for Martin as me,' the jockey said after winning his second Champion Hurdle. 'We hadn't won a big race but we believe in ourselves and there is always an element of wanting to answer the criticism. We have had as much of that as anyone and you want to reply to it.'

The partnership may further stamp their quality tomorrow as Pipe has three horses in the first six of the Gold Cup betting. Following the events of yesterday, when Country Member, a recent victor over Rushing Wild at Sandown, was defeated, Scudamore has decided to ride another Wellington entry, Chatam.

Further glory may await, but, as Scudamore returned to unsaddle yesterday, elation wrestled with another, less pleasant, emotion. The jockey said the weighing room was a sombre place yesterday following the weekend accident to one of their number, Dai Tegg, who suffered a brain haemorrhage after riding on Saturday.

'I don't want to sound too corny, but this doesn't really matter a lot when you think about him,' Scudamore said. 'Like any group of people working together, we're all close, and a lot of people in there were thinking about Dai before the race. We are praying for him.'

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(Photograph omitted)

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