Racing: Punters can be satisfied with Honour: A flutter on Pipe's hope for the season's major handicap hurdle may wing home at the expense of Price's Dove

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The Independent Online
IT WAS the year Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space, Britain was refused entry to the Common Market and John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated.

Among those benchmarks of 1963, a new handicap hurdle at Liverpool was small beer, but in the minor orb of horse racing the Schweppes Gold Trophy has created headlines of its own.

In fact, in its very first year (and the only time it was run at Aintree), Stan Mellor, the first jockey to reach 1,000 winners almost became the first man to die in the race when he was involved in a mangle of horses and riders.

That race and the following year's running (at Newbury) were won by Rosyth, who was unplaced on four outings in between. The stewards were aggrieved enough by this inconsistency to suspend his jockey, Josh Gifford, for six weeks, and warn off his trainer, Ryan Price.

Price was back in 1966 to win the race with Le Vermontois and again a year later with Hill House, the Pablo Escobar of his day. The seven-year-old tested positive after his victory, but was found to have manufactured the drug within his own body, leading to a nickname of 'the horse who could make his own dope'.

More recently there has been the victory of Persian War, who went on to win the same season's Champion Hurdle, a big-race double which, if repeated this year, would earn a pounds 50,000 bonus. Grey Salute's success in 1989 was over the only odds-on favourite in the history of the race, Vicario Di Bray, and last year's triumph by King Credo gave Steve Woodman, the Chichester trainer, his only win of the season.

In 1987 the Tote took over sponsorship from Schweppes, but in the build-up to Saturday's renewal there have been plenty of trainers still referring to the original name.

For this year's running the surname Price again features among the major players. Richard Price's Flakey Dove was one of 15 declarations yesterday and is either favourite or joint-favourite with Oliver Sherwood's novice, Large Action, in the lists.

Flakey Dove looked a dispirited character and worked lazily at Price's Leominster stables at the weekend, yet strangely caused great delight in the yard.

'We knew she was going to be in season some time around the race, and we now think it's been and gone,' the trainer said yesterday. 'She's a funny mare and sometimes, for one or two days, she just isn't herself. She doesn't really show any signs, maybe she gets a little miserable, but she doesn't gallop with any enthusiasm in her work and we've got rid of that in the last 48 hours. She's so well now I'm sure she'll take all the beating.'

Flakey Dove is 9lb better in here than for future assignments, and will be helped if David Elsworth runs Oh So Risky and thus pushes eight horses out of the handicap. She will not fail for lack of assistance either, as the mare is to be ridden by either her regular partner, Richard Dunwoody, who may be claimed by Martin Pipe, or Adrian Maguire.

While Flakey Dove is fighting Large Action in the betting, Sherwood's gelding will have to win for them to meet again in the Champion Hurdle.

'The Tote Gold Trophy is going to answer a lot of questions about the horse,' Sherwood said. 'And even if he's an honourable second I won't be persuaded to run in the Champion Hurdle.'.

Whatever his fate, Large Action will have an instructive tune-up for Cheltenham on Saturday, when he will be baulked and nudged by wily handicappers for the first time. 'I want him to have lots of runners around him who really want to go like shit off a shovel, which is why we're not going for a seven- or eight-runner race,' the trainer said.

'We're going for the Tote Gold Trophy to see if he can keep up speed in a hurly-burly race and his jumping has got to be spot on, as it will have to be at Cheltenham. And even if he doesn't go and win it he will at least have learned something.'

However, if there is one lesson in racing that everyone has learned by now it is that Martin Pipe is the nonpareil of getting horses ready first time out. His well-handicapped runner on Saturday comes into that category, the 20-1 shot Her Honour.

(Photograph omitted)