When the champion trainer's Miinnehoma, under Peter Scudamore, swung into the straight at the Berkshire course with an uneasy lead, a familiar denouement threatened; one which had seen Pipe's Vagog succeed 30 minutes earlier and which for many seasons has featured horses from the Wellington yard exhibiting unfailing reserves in the closing stages.
But on this occasion Pipe was out-Piped as Captain Dibble, who had been under pressure for much of the race, called on even deeper courage to claim another event of import for Nigel Twiston-Davies.
Unlike many in National Hunt racing, Twiston-Davies has never treated Pipe's training methods with the suspicion of a witch doctor flicking through a medical manual. As a friend and business partner of Scudamore, Twiston-Davies will not have been denied a basic knowledge of the Somerset operation.
But he has gone much further than that. Like the Disney corporation's faithful replication of a castle in Florida following the success of Disneyland in California, Twiston- Davies has made his Grange Hill Farm at Naunton in Gloucestershire a microcosm of Pipe's yard.
Thus, Twiston-Davies follows the champion trainer in regularly testing his string's blood, the use of interval training and working his horses on a model of Pipe's short, uphill gallop. Pipe himself supervised the construction of the 4 1/2 -furlong Fibresand strip.
'We do exactly the same as Martin does,' says Scudamore, who is allowed the plural more as a shareholder in Twiston-Davies's property than his training operation. 'We had a bloody good season last year, a winner at the Festival (Tipping Tim in the Ritz Club Chase) and the Scottish National (Captain Dibble), and that's doubled the number of horses we've been sent.'
Such prizes must have seemed remote when the stable produced just two winners four seasons ago. But when Captain Dibble scored on Saturday it was the yard's 34th victory of the campaign, and Twiston-Davies now has only David Nicholson and Pipe himself to look up to in the trainers' championship.
In much the same way as Pipe, he also has a good record with horses first time out, with roughly a 30 per cent success rate, and a record of being sparing with words to interviewers.
'He's a laid-back sort of person and I think he's frightened of re- iterating the same old trainers' garbage,' Scudamore says. 'The stuff about having lovely horses that all work wonderfully. He's just not one for the limelight, but I think in time he'll be more outgoing when he gets used to it all.'
Twiston-Davies did speak yesterday though, and announced that thanks to peas Captain Dibble should now be a runner in the Welsh National at Chepstow a week today. The gelding, who bruised his heels badly last time out, was taken to the racecourse on Saturday with packs of frozen peas and (don't tell his friends) high-heeled shoes on his feet to prevent a repetition.
It worked. 'He's sound today and there are no problems,' Twiston-Davies said. 'It's all systems go for the Welsh National.'
Captain Dibble, who will again be ridden by Carl Llewellyn, will carry a 4lb penalty and greater expectation from the bookmakers. Coral reacted most savagely by cutting him to 9-2 second favourite behind another Pipe horse, Run For Free.
The future for Miinnehoma is less clear. A second successive defeat saw a second successive relaxation in his Gold Cup odds by Ladbrokes, who now make him a 20-1 chance for Cheltenham (from 14-1). This, however, was the gelding's first journey round a right- handed course, and connections believe he will be a different force travelling anticlockwise.
Another of Saturday's winners, Baydon Star, was cut to 8-1 (from 10-1) for the Ladbroke Hurdle at Leopardstown next month by the sponsors and now shares joint- favouritism with Arthur Moore's Bitofabanter.
Baydon Star's fourth consecutive victory further fuelled the notion that Nicholson may be about to end Pipe's reign as champion trainer. Much more of this and Nicholson may open his front door to find Twiston-Davies armed with a notebook and Polaroid camera.
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