Racing: Murphy's the target as Pipe cruises towards title

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THE BIGGEST surprise of the jumps season so far was the news that Martin Pipe, the workaholics' workaholic, is currently enjoying a Caribbean cruise, and called in at the Breeders' Cup in Florida at the weekend merely for fun. It must have been the first time for years that Pipe had been to a race meeting at which he did not have a runner.

That said, of course, it would be no surprise to find Pipe emerging from the cruise liner at landfall accompanied by a horse he had claimed from a race on the Gulfstream undercard. His brain will be working even if his body is not, and while he was taking it easy in Florida on Saturday, six more winners were being added to his total for the season. That now stands at 75, which is already more than just a handful of his rivals will manage all year.

Pipe is also well on the way to his first half-a-million in prize money, and will hope to make further progress this weekend when he - or rather, his son, David - will saddle Majadou and Tresor De Mai in the Murphy's Gold Cup at Cheltenham, a contest he has won three times in the last four years. The bookmakers all made Majadou favourite for the race after yesterday's five-day declaration stage, at prices ranging from 5-2 all the way up to 4-1.

Majadou, who was an easy winner of the Mildmay of Flete Chase at the Festival in March, is expected to be the chosen ride of Tony McCoy, but the rider of the likely spare ride will not go to post without hope.

"Majadou is well in himself and we are obviously hoping for a big run from him as he's been pleasing in his work at home," David Pipe said yesterday. "Tresor De Mai has come out of last week's race at Exeter [when fourth to Flagship Uberalles] in good shape and he's always seemed as if he would be better over further than two miles, and he'll get that on Saturday. In my opinion there would not be too much between the horses, as although Majadou won at the Festival, the longer trip could bring out improvement in Tresor De Mai."

The bookies were less certain of the main danger to Pipe's team, though, with Tremallt, trained by Tom George, the choice of Ladbrokes at 6-1. This despite the presence in the race of the champion two-mile chaser, Call Equiname, who tops the weights and ensures that only seven of the field will not be running from out of the handicap.

Call Equiname is an 8-1 chance with Coral, an extraordinary price about a horse who always goes well fresh, and won the Victor Chandler Chase first time up last season.

"He always goes well first time out, he's in good order and he'd have a good chance," Paul Nicholls said yesterday. "He's had his problems in the past, but touch wood he's over those at the moment, and he's never been beaten over fences at Cheltenham. We've had plenty of winners in the last week and the idea was always to have the horses ready now."

Nicholls almost managed the unthinkable last season, when he took the tussle with Pipe for the trainers' title right down to the last week of the season. He is again the only obvious challenger to Pipe's dominance, and the Murphy's will be the first of many big-race head-to-heads over the coming months.

"It would have been nice to win the title, but I'm not even thinking about it now," Nicholls said. "You just can't compete with the numbers, and that's what beat us in the end. On win money, we would have won, but it was the sheer numbers and place money that beat us."

A former resident of Nicholls's yard, Lake Kariba, is also among the Murphy's entries, though he is now owned by The Winning Line and trained by Venetia Williams, who also has The Outback Way in the race. Mister Morose, trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, and Philip Hobbs's Stormy Passage will also have their supporters, but given the structure of the race, with so many horses out of the handicap and such class among those who race off their true weight, it is hard to see beyond half a dozen of the contenders even at this early stage.

Tremallt, meanwhile, is also among the 10 entries for the Edward Hanmer Chase at Haydock the same afternoon. Young Kenny, last year's Scottish Grand National winner, is the most interesting of the other names on the list, and was confirmed a definite runner yesterday by Peter Beaumont, his trainer. He will be without his regular rider, though, following Brendan Powell's injury last week, and Robbie Supple has been booked to take his place.