The delicate business of bringing horses to concert pitch, during these final mornings before the Cheltenham Festival, tends to bring about a corresponding tension in their masters – one sometimes best measured by the things that remain unsaid. The less David Pipe mentions Well Chief, for instance, the more optimistic his owner can be. Of all the horses Pipe must tauten over the next 11 mornings, the former champion steeplechaser remains most likely to snap. As the young trainer told a media open morning yesterday: "No news is good news." As far as his stable jockey is concerned, however, the same seems unlikely to prove true of Osana.
Slowly but surely, Pipe's partnership with Tom Scudamore is becoming less vulnerable to comparison with the one – between their respective fathers, Martin and Peter – that made their surnames famous. In Madison Du Berlais, they even find themselves with a fancied Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup contender. But not everyone seems fully persuaded just yet, obliging Pipe to admit that he could not shed light on riding arrangements for Osana in the Smurfit Champion Hurdle.
Scudamore rode Osana when second in the race last year, but earlier this week the leading Irish jockey, Andrew McNamara, came over to Somerset to school the horses owned by Thomas Barr. Paddy Brennan was in the saddle when Osana made his belated reappearance at Sandown last month, while Tony McCoy recently rode Barr's smart novice, Torphichen, to win at the same track. The topic was clearly an uncomfortable one – Pipe said only that he is "waiting to hear from Mr Barr" – but Scudamore himself addressed it judiciously.
"Nothing's been said," he shrugged. "I'd love to ride Osana, there's no two ways about it. I'd walk over hot coals to ride him. But I'm not lying awake at night thinking about it. My most important job is to get out there and keep riding winners."
Pipe could be rather more positive about Osana himself. "He took a long time to come to himself, but he's in great form now," he said. "He jumped and travelled well at Sandown, and just tired up the home straight, as we thought he would. He has come on a lot for that, and we know Cheltenham suits him very well. So does the end-to-end gallop, because he will keep going. Last year he looked beaten four out, but came again up the hill. If the Binocular who won at Ascot turns up, he will probably win, but if there are any chinks in his armour I'd like to think we can find them."
Pipe acknowledged that his other Champion Hurdle candidate, Ashkazar, remains a few pounds short of Osana. "But he's still relatively unexposed and has a bit more scope for improvement," he said. "Probably neither the track nor the ground was ideal for him when he won at Wincanton the other day, and he raced lazily. But that's just him, and he has come out of the race very well. Cheltenham will suit him, too, and the fast pace."
Like Ashkazar, Well Chief is owned by David Johnson and will duly be ridden by his retained jockey, Timmy Murphy. Since winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase four years ago he has mustered just the three starts. "He has done so much swimming that he has probably got flippers now," Pipe said. "He is fragile, as everyone knows, but he is doing plenty of work and I can't believe we've got him so close. If he does get there, and if he retains his ability – two big ifs, I know – then maybe he's the one horse who could give Master Minded half a race."
Pipe has made a couple of dozen entries for the inaugural running of the handicap hurdle named in honour of his father. As that race is confined to conditional jockeys, Scudamore will again be a bystander. But he will abide all frustrations should Madison Du Berlais confirm that his defeat of Denman at Kempton reflected more on him than the runner-up.
"I don't think any of us will really know what happened there until after the Gold Cup," Pipe admitted. "But I thought it was an amazing performance regardless. He had them all beaten halfway down the far side. Take him out of the race and Denman would have beaten Albertas Run by 25 lengths and would probably be 4-6 favourite for the Gold Cup. Our horse does seem a lot better since being ridden positively, in the cheekpieces. He's still young, still improving, and he gets on with the job."
As it happens, he might do well to remember that final endorsement. Word for word, it is one that he could equally use in recommending Scudamore to his more fastidious patrons.Reuse content