Pipe dreamsAngus Loughran wonders if we might see a horse bag the mouthwateringly large bonus for winning both the Imperial Cup and a race at Cheltenham this year. If it is going to happen, the Pipe family know how to do it better than anyone else
The Paddy Power-sponsored Imperial Cup, run at Sandown the weekend before the Cheltenham festival, carries a huge bonus of £75,000 for any horse that wins the traditionally competitive Listed handicap and goes on to land a race at the Cheltenham Festival.
Three horses have completed the famous double, and all three were trained by Martin or David Pipe. Olympian (1993), Blowing Wind (1998) and, more recently, Gaspara, in 2007. David Pipe\'s hugely progressive mare followed up her six-length victory in the Imperial Cup with a five-length demolition in the Fred Winter Juveniles Novices\' Handicap Hurdle (for which she had to carry a 4lb penalty) just three days later, and the Pipe team very nearly repeated the feat in 2008 when the gambled-on Ashkazar was foiled in the same contest by Crack Away Jack.
David and father Martin before him have won five of the last 10 runnings of this Listed prize and the huge bonus incentive has clearly captured the imagination of the Pond House team down the years.
Not only does it take months of forward planning to orchestrate such a coup, but also a hugely talented horse who has yet to show his hand to the assessor while showing enough to suggest he can handle the rigours of two hugely competitive handicaps in a short space of time. David Pipe didn\'t have a runner in the Imperial Cup last season, suggesting connections either didn\'t have an animal of the calibre required, or that any possible plan didn\'t come to fruition. Given the timescales involved in planning such an attempt, so much has to go in the favour of connections in terms of preparation and having a smooth build-up.
So the million dollar question is, do the Pond House team have any potential stars of the future capable of landing this big prize? Both Askazar and Gaspara were four-year-old French recruits who had been campaigned through novice events, although Ashkazar did contest the Grade 1 Finale Hurdle at Chepstow, where he was sent off 7/4 joint favourite on just his second start in this country, suggesting connections knew what they had.
At time of writing (January) Pipe doesn\'t have any obvious contenders that fit the profile of a potential Imperial Cup winner, but one or two possibilities have emerged over the holiday period and deserve close attention.
The lightly-raced Dynaste, who is the ante-post favourite for the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys\' Handicap Hurdle, could possibly find the two-mile-and-half-a-furlong trip of the Imperial Cup on the sharp side. But this progressive grey gelding, who made all to score over 2m 4f at Taunton in December, looks just the type the Pipes will win a valuable prize with and it wouldn\'t be the biggest surprise were this son of Martaline to turn up at Sandown, a track on which front runners often excel.
David Pipe unleashed possibly his brightest prospect of the season in Our Father, who made a winning hurdles debut at Chepstow on Welsh National day. He looked a huge, unfurnished sort in the paddock beforehand so must be an extremely talented gelding to have posted such an impressive performance. Never out of second gear under Timmy Murphy, his jumping was sound and he defied his complete inexperience to make mincemeat of some useful rivals. Connections are adamant he is a horse for the future, but the David Johnson-owned five-year-old is a must for all your notebooks even in the short term.
Buena Vista isn\'t a horse with any secrets from the handicapper but nor did he when he won the Pertemps Final at the Cheltenham Festival last March, building on his second in the same race 12 months earlier. He may be 10 years of age now, but this gelding is a proven Festival performer and will no doubt be aimed at the three-mile hurdle contest once again. He doesn\'t have much room for manouevre off a mark of 140 (7lb higher than when winning the race), but David Pipe will have his charge primed for the big occasion once again and he will doubtless be one of the big hopes for the Pond House team come Festival week.
Team Pipe have inherited another horse of great potential after owner Terry Neill, a longstanding patron at Pond House, paid £88,000 for French Flat performer Kazzene. This four-year-old was Listed class in France, where he proved fully effective on testing ground, and it will be interesting to see what route connections take with this son of Cozzene. If he makes a big splash on debut, connections would have to consider a tilt at the Triumph Hurdle, a race which looks wide open at the moment.