Racing: Unsinkable starts Gold Cup voyage

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The Independent Online
MARTIN PIPE has never won a Cheltenham Gold Cup but he was involved in perhaps the most controversial Blue Riband of the modern era.

That came in 1992, when the little man was represented by an enormous horse in the shape of the intimidating Carvill's Hill. He went off an even-money shot and came back a cripple after the "stalking horse" Gold Cup, when the big horse was shadowed over the early fences by Jenny Pitman's Golden Freeze. Carvill's Hill was fifth, last and effectively damaged beyond repair.

It could be that Pipe will have a chance to erase this disturbing memory from his record in extraordinarily apt circumstances at the foot of Prestbury Hill next March. Not only does he harbour great aspiration for another immense horse in his Nicholashayne yard but the beast in question also runs in the Carvill's Hill colours of Paul Green.

Unsinkable Boxer ran just five times for Pipe last season following his transfer to the West Country, but, on each occasion, he won with a facility which suggested he'd only had to fill one lung with oxygen.

The run culminated at Liverpool, which followed an outrageous capture of the Gold Card Hurdle Final at the Cheltenham Festival. Unsinkable Boxer started a 5-2 favourite that day, which is plenty short enough for a 24- runner handicap, even when it is not staged in the competitive amphitheatre of the Festival. Nevertheless, he was a steering job for Tony McCoy.

All these successes were over hurdles. However, when Pipe implied that Unsinkable Boxer's future lay over fences the bookmakers were not about to start flashing fancy prices around about the Gold Cup. They made the gelding a 14-1 shot, which might seem a silly price if Unsinkable Boxer wins his novice chase at Uttoxeter this afternoon.

Silly it no doubt is already, but if the fencing tyro avoids mishap today, the new odds will be of asylum proportions. Of the 23 declared for the Uttoxeter race, only three have had the temerity to stay in and challenge Unsinkable Boxer. He should destroy the opposition and the layers will then do the same to his odds.

"The horse has schooled very well at home but there are only four runners in the race, so I don't know how much we're going to learn from it," Chester Barnes, Pipe's assistant trainer, said yesterday. "He looks like a chaser. He's this massive big thing and he's wide with it.

"Ideally, we just want to school him round and win easily, but there are a few tricky fences at Uttoxeter. He's normally a hold-up job, but we're not really going to be able to do that.

"Brendan Powell tells us he schooled him four years ago and he jumped very well and Tony [McCoy] is looking forward to riding him, but it's a completely different ball game on the track. He's a ridiculous price for the Gold Cup, but if he just gets round and wins tomorrow, the bookies will probably cut him to single-figure odds."

The Lefley's Hog Roast Novices' Chase is not the most romantic of titles on which to be launching a prospective champion but then the Pipe team is running out of time. Unsinkable Boxer was due to run at Newton Abbot's abandoned Monday card and the yard acknowledge that he is in need of a fencing crammer. "He's not got a lot of miles on the clock but he's a nine-year-old now, so he's got to get a move on," Barnes added. "We'd like to get a few runs before the Festival because he needs the experience. He needs to be jumping quickly as you have to when you're with those good horses at Cheltenham."

Barnes has contemplated defeat and seems to have found a comfortable refuge. "If he doesn't win, so be it," he said. "We're talking sport here and we'll still be living and breathing at the end of the day, God willing, if we win, lose or draw. It's not like we're living in Baghdad or anything."

Paul Nicholls resides rather closer than that to Pipe, his West country neighbour, and he, too, is plotting serious victories in the New Year. The Ditcheat trainer has three entries in the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot next month and it appears that they may all be nuzzling the starting tape. "Lake Kariba is in the Castleford Chase at Wetherby over Christmas and we'll have to see how he comes out of that first," Nicholls said yesterday. "Squire Silk runs on Saturday and the same applies, while Call Equiname has not run for over a year now but he may make his seasonal debut in the Victor Chandler."