Racing: Grand Stand finish for Pipe

Make A Stand produced an astonishing display here yesterday to turn the Tote Gold Trophy, the most valuable - and ostensibly the most competitive - handicap hurdle in Europe into a one-horse contest. The little white-faced chestnut led from start to finish to take the pounds 44,556 first prize by nine lengths, and for good measure his stable - that of Martin Pipe - also supplied the runner-up Hamilton Silk.

The performance shot Make A Stand, arguably the most improved hurdler in training, right into the Champion Hurdle reckoning. Before yesterday he was 50-1 for the Champion; he is now a best-priced 14-1 with William Hill - Ladbrokes and Coral offer just 10-1.

The six-year-old, who had won his three previous races in his trademark front-running, catch-me-if-you-can style, was undeniably well-handicapped, but yesterday's task was still his toughest to date. Yet he simply obliterated his rivals, 20 lengths clear at half-way with the race sewn up.

His rider, Chris Maude, said: "Our only concern beforehand was we knew we had to get a breather into him at some point, and thought the cross hurdle before the turn for home would be the place.

"When I looked round I could hardly believe it. There was nothing good enough or near enough to challenge me even though I'd throttled back for a bit. The way he has won a race of this standard he's got to be considered a Champion Hurdle horse."

Make A Stand jumped the last flight as well as he cleared the first, and came home to the sort of reception that a horse backed from 12-1 a month ago to 6-1 is generally accorded.

Hamilton Silk, on whom the Australian jockey Jamie Evans was having his first British ride since breaking a leg at Cheltenham last year, ran on well to deprive Direct Route of second place. The winning distance was the third-longest in the race's 34-year history, Hill House having won by 12 lengths in 1967 and Irish Fashion by 10 in 1976.

Make A Stand, who runs in businessman Peter Deal's colours, was acquired for a mere 8,000 guineas after winning a Leicester claimer on the Flat in August 1995, got off the mark over hurdles in a maiden event at Newton Abbot last May. Happily for Pipe, he still owns half the horse. "I tried to sell my half, but no one wanted it," he said.

Typically, Pipe was unsurprised by the ease of yesterday's victory, which brought the gelding's earnings to nearly pounds 130,000. He said: "People kept telling me he couldn't win a race like this, that he'd always had it so easy at the weights before. But he is a very good, tough horse, a real athlete who loves racing and he's run and jumped them ragged."

Equally typically, Pipe would not commit Make A Stand to the Champion Hurdle at this stage. He said: "He is in the novice races as well. We'll have to talk about it, but whatever happens he won't run before Cheltenham. We'll be looking after him."

No decision about the Festival target of another of Pipe's stars, Cyborgo, was forthcoming either after the seven-year-old's fuss-free win in the novices' chase. Last year's Stayers' Hurdle winner has been touted as a Gold Cup candidate and lengthened away from Buckhouse Boy between the last two as soon as Richard Dunwoody asked, but Pipe said: "He'll have another run, and then we'll see."

Double Symphony followed last Saturday's hurdles win at Sandown by landing the Game Spirit Chase on her return to fences. The chestnut mare will appear at Cheltenham in either the Queen Mother Champion Chase or the Cathcart Chase.

It was a fairly bloodless victory for Double Symphony after the withdrawal of Viking Flagship because of a mildly bruised foot, but Brooks is leaning away from the Champion Chase. "I'm not really sure she's up to that class," he said. In Viking Flagship's absence, Klairon Davis established himself as favourite to retain his Champion Chase title with a comfortable win at Navan yesterday.