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2017 Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle tips - An expert preview of the penultimate race of the Festival

Jonathan Vine in Friday 16 Mar 2017
Could J.P. McManus and Philip Hobbs team up for a Festival victory in the Martin Pipe?

Our expert looks over the ante-post field for the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle and picks out a strong contender who could make a big impact at the Festival.

The Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle is one of the newest additions to the Cheltenham Festival schedule and the ninth renewal of this race looks like being as exciting as the previous eight. This two-and-a-half mile handicap has proved to be a popular penultimate race at the Festival and provides conditional jockeys with a chance to shine on the biggest stage of them all.

Paul Nicholls' Brio Conti (10/1 Ladbrokes) has risen to the head of the Martin Pipe betting, after Gordon Elliott's The Storyteller was ruled out with injury. He lost out narrowly to Albert Bartlett challenger, Constantine Bay earlier in the season, but an excellent victory on his last outing in a decent race at Doncaster on January has put him back on the Festival path.

Battleford (8/1 bet365) finished second to The Storyteller at Thurles in January and was narrowly beaten by another Albert Bartlett contender in the shape on Monalee on his latest appearance. Willie Mullins' charge was narrowly beaten into second in both the big Bumpers at Cheltenham and Aintree last spring and entered the world of hurdling with plenty of promise. One win from four starts over jumps doesn't look that impressive, but his latest defeats show you have to be a very good horse to beat him.

David Pipe is yet to land a victory in the raced named after his father and he will be hoping Eamon An Cnoic (16/1 BetVictor) can carry his winning two mile form into this extended distance. The six-year-old is a former point-to-pointer, so stepping up in trip shouldn’t cause him too many problems, but no winner of this title have ever come into the Martin Pipe without ever testing themselves over two-and-a-half miles. History may count against him, but he’s unbeaten so far during this campaign and he is sure to garner plenty of vocal support from the sentimental crowd.

Eamon An Cnoic (L) could be David Pipe's first ever winner of the race bearing his father's name.

After finishing near the back of the field in the Champion Bumper here at Cheltenham, Geordie Des Champs (20/1 William Hill) kicked off his maiden hurdling campaign with three hard-fought victories - the last of those coming in a competitive 20 furlong class four. He was narrowly beaten by Theligny in a class two in December, before finishing last of the six combatants in the Grade 2 Leamington Hurdle at Warwick. Rebecca Curtis is likely to send him out again in February, in a bid to try and recapture his form going into Cheltenham, so you may want to keep an eye out for him on race cards over the next few weeks.

Doesyourdogbite (25/1 William Hill) was the 11/2 favourite for the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton in January and he recovered well from a sluggish start to come home ten lengths behind Modus in sixth. The five-year-old had won three two-and-a-half mile contests going into the Lanzarote - including a good victory over Bubba and Squeak at Market Rasen and an even more impressive win in a class three handicap at Kempton, beating Spiritofthegames by two lengths off a high weight. Despite his youngster falling to his first defeat of the season, Jonjo O’Neill will have been pleased to see him finish strongly in that Listed race and he looks to be a dangerous outsider to watch out for at the Festival.

Nicky Henderson looks set to play a strong hand in the Martin Pipe, with Divine Spear (20/1 William Hill) and Thomas Campbell (16/1 bet365) shaping like his best two challengers. Both have been in good form this season, Divine Spear won a good handicap at Fontwell, before being narrowly beaten by William H Bonney here at Cheltenham and Air Force One in a very high-quality handicap at Ascot on his latest appearance. Thomas Campbell lost his unbeaten hurdling record when he was left trailing behind Capitaine in a Grade 2 at Ascot. The form of that prestigious race doesn't exactly back up his claims here, but his hat-trick of wins on nice ground before that defeat shows he will be a fresh contender to be feared.

There are plenty of strong title contenders in this years field for the Martin Pipe, but one who stands out above the others is Philip Hobbs' NO COMMENT (12/1 BetVictor), who has recorded a sequence of encouraging results since enduring a difficult start to this maiden hurdling season.

The six-year-old struggled to settle on his first appearance in Graded company at the start of the season, unseating Barry Geraghty after an early jumping blunder at the back of the field. He was bested by Robin Roe on his next appearance, but three impressive wins have followed since then, including two over the Martin Pipe distance at Plumpton. J. P. McManus will be well-represented in this year's Martin Pipe and it looks like No Comment will be flying that yellow and green flag higher than the rest, come Friday afternoon at the Festival.

17/3/2017 16:50pm Cheltenham selection - NO COMMENT (12/1 BetVictor)

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2017 Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle tips - An expert preview of the penultimate race of the Festival

Our expert looks over the ante-post field for the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle and picks out a strong contender who could make a big impact at the Festival.

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