Racing: Pipe advances on all counts: The champion trainer sweeps past yet another landmark even before his season swings towards its most productive phase

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The Independent Online
HOEVER said that statistics come in two types - the ones you look up, and the ones you make up - forgot to include the sort that Martin Pipe sends showering down on the racing community. Namely, the ones that make rivals want to throw up.

Oh no, here comes another homage to Pipe, you think. Actually, no, because the Martin Pipe homage department has been closed down, like an overworked mine or an agrarian dust bowl. Pipe has attracted enough praise to satisfy the most insecure theatrical 'luvvie', but still his arrival at the 1,500 winner mark at Chepstow on Saturday is worthy of comment, if only to remind ourselves that our hyperactive champion jumps trainer is entering what is, each season, his most fertile phase of conquest.

To remind ourselves, in other words, to get stuck into the Pipe horses between now and June, when jump racing hobbles to its end on baked mudcakes across the country.

Granted, Pipe has secured 'only' 129 victories so far in his current campaign, but anybody who dismisses his chances of reaching his own seasonal record of 230 ignores the stable's proven ability to crank up production in the period from February to June, and send out anything up to 36 winners a month.

In spring, the speaker system at Pond House stables, which normally forces Radio 1 on the residents, must switch to Orwellian mode with booming exhortations to even greater output and efficiency. Pipe's monthly tallies in the final stages of last season were 29, 28, 20 and 36, so if the yard can achieve something like the same strike-rate this year, it is currently heading for a total of around 220 winners for 1992-93. It could almost tempt you to take the 4-1 William Hill are offering against Pipe passing that seasonal record of 230, and is definitely enough to make you unspeakably smug if you have backed Peter Scudamore, the stable jockey, at 2-1 or even 5-2 to retain his title as champion.

Pipe was never enthusiastic about discussing his progress from talented guesser to arch-empiricist, and has long since lapsed into media-speak when inquiries about his horses are advanced. But then the beauty for us punters is that all the guiding evidence is readily available in the shape of computer analyses and seasonal patterns.

The most astonishing fact about Pipe's rise (astonishing in the sense that it remains impossible to understand) is that it was 10 years before he was able to train 50 winners in a season (in 1984-85).

The twin peaks that Pipe still surveys are the Grand National and the Gold Cup, for which this year he will field his strongest team (Run For Free, Chatam, Rushing Wild), and though Granville Again has looked anything but a champion hurdler this season, he remains third-favourite (as short as 6-1, with Ladbrokes) for the Festival on account of the paucity of opposition. Coulton's win at Nottingham on Saturday, in a time half a minute slower than standard, told us as much about this year's Champion Hurdle as a cover-to-cover reading of the phone book.

'So what?,' was the only rational thought after Coulton had beaten Duke Of Monmouth. The next one was: this is almost certainly not the champion elect, a suspicion that was bolstered by Ladbrokes' decision to ease him a point to 6-1, and the declaration by Mick Easterby, his trainer, that Coulton might require another outing before the Festival (now only three weeks away) to give him a proper test. This is a bit like an undergraduate needing alphabet tuition a week before their finals.

Among those consulted yesterday as to the merit of Coulton's victory was David Elsworth, trainer of Muse, who has emerged from somewhere beyond left-field to take up favouritism at around 4-1.

'I do think the second horse (Duke Of Monmouth) may be a bit of a thinker and it may be difficult to assess the form,' Elsworth said. 'It was a thoroughly sound performance, but for me it just didn't have sparkle.'

This is an important week for the former fringe candidates who have been shuffled into the spaces vacated by the dead and the declining at the head of the Champion Hurdle betting. Today, Flown risks running himself giddy in the National Spirit Hurdle round Fontwell's figure-of-eight, while at Wincanton on Thursday, Muse, Kribensis, Gran Alba and the Irish challenger, Sanndila, meet in the Kingwell Hurdle, which, Elsworth says, Muse will win 'pulling a milk float'.

Meanwhile, Ruling, that equine weirdo, is down to run at Haydock on Friday, while Morley Street, who has suffered from internal bleeding, was reinstated to the betting yesterday (14-1 with Ladbrokes) after working satisfactorily on Saturday morning. He is unlikely to appear in public before the Festival.

If there is a spot of value left in the Champion Hurdle market, it could be Halkopous at 8-1, provided, of course, that you can forgive him that poor run in the Irish Champion Hurdle. The memory of his success in the Bula Hurdle at Cheltenham in December encourages the thought that, on his day, he could beat horses like Coulton and Granville Again wearing leg irons.

But then again, maybe we should just stick with Pipe.

(Photograph omitted)

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