BOOK REVIEW / An uphill struggle: 'Martin Pipe' - Martin Pipe with Richard Pitman: Headline, 16.99

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The Independent Online
Charging at the granite fort of British bookmaking is a bruising and demoralising daily habit for all but a blessed few ultra- smart gamblers. People like Martin Pipe, in other words: at Haydock one afternoon he won so much money that he had to stuff piles of banknotes under his trilby. Memo to all punters: always keep two buckets in the kitchen, ready for the day when you, like Pipe, need somwhere to store pounds 53,000 in cash after a trip to the races.

Seldom are bookies taught such expensive lessons. Pipe was virtually unknown as a racehorse trainer at that time, but still the industry's intelligence network (paid stable lads, struggling jockeys and other assorted deep throats) should have twitched with the news that Pipe had 'laid-out' a previously crippled hurdler called Carrie Ann for this exceptionally mediocre race. If it had, Pipe and his companion, the former table tennis champion, Chester Barnes, would not have been able to glide through the betting ring at Haydock taking 20-1 and even 33-1 about Carrie Ann's chance.

To most of us, it's just a fantasy. For Pipe, it was simply one of many great leaps forward on the route to becoming the most numerically successful trainer of jumping horses in history. For each of the last four seasons he has sent out more than 200 winners a year, a fact that acquires its true significance only when you consider that the previous seasonal record, held by Michael Dickinson, was just 121.

Pipe has redefined the preparation of racehorses with his interval training, his blood tests, his mobile-phone-clutching zeal for an art that has now ceased to be the preserve of the English landed classes. This is a man who flies to the races by helicopter, takes his form books to bed on holiday, and once ran up a phone bill of pounds 1,500 making anxious calls from a Bahamian hotel to his stables in Nicholashayne, near Taunton. Being so far from his horses, he said, 'nearly drove (him) to drink'.

Self-made? Emphatically not. David Pipe, Martin's father, may be 'mistaken for the odd- job man around the yard', but his snaggle-toothed farmer's demeanour did not stop him rising from pig husbandry to owning a chain of betting shops in the West Country and subsequent millionairedom. In the book, which has been ghosted by the former jockey, Richard Pitman, Martin Pipe recalls his father fishing out pre-wrapped meals from the pig swill sold to him by a nearby American military hospital, and distributing them among family and friends.

Pipe the younger was settling imaginary bets by the age of 12, and after the obligatory break- out - writing off cars down country lanes - began to devise the equine fitness techniques that attracted the attention, last year, of ITV's The Cook Report. While his successes mounted, so did the envy of jump racing's old order, and Pipe spent pounds 30,000 refuting Roger Cook's allegation that the stable was abnormally tough on its horses. Pipe's only cruelty, in fact, is piping Radio 1 into the stabling barns to relax the residents.

The secret, which reporters, Jockey Club inspectors and jealous colleagues have pursued, is disappointingly simple. Pipe has a short, uphill artificial gallop which, at intervals, he sends horses along at a gentle canter. Most trainers use racecourses to get runners fit. Pipe argues that if trainers cannot condition horses at home they should not be charging fees to the owners.

'People accuse me of being too hard on my horses, but the reverse is true,' Pipe says. 'Mine are never put under stress at home. They are built up gradually, and if they are showing any signs of weakness or immaturity, we lay them off. Careful monitoring of everything a horse eats and daily short-term cantering produces lean, hard equine athletes ready for the fray. You don't see fat human runners, do you?'

In a parade ring - the beauty contest - at a rural jumping track, a Pipe runner can look like a heavyweight boxer surrounded by middle-aged office workers, and the clock is ticking towards the day when Pipe wins either a Cheltenham Gold Cup or a Grand National.

In betting terms, with the Carrie Ann coup, he has already won both. It will not relieve the pain of those who frequent betting shops to learn that Pipe won so much at Haydock that day that he forgot to collect all his winnings, and had to drive 10 miles back to the course to pick up the last pounds 7,000.