Our expert looks over the ante-post field for the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle and picks out an each-way 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.
looked on course to seal victory on his hurdling debut back in November, but a fall at the last was sure to have ruined Gordon Elliott’s day. Elliott sent his six-year-old back out two weeks later and he ran well to finish second over 22 furlongs behind Monalee. A maiden hurdling victory wasn't far away and that moment finally came over a shorter trip at Down Royal on Boxing Day, when the even-money favourite destroyed a handy field by almost nine lengths. Another impressive victory followed over 22 furlongs, which resulted in him entering the Albert Bartlett betting, but this two-and-a-half mile trip could be the best option for Elliott to take at this year’s Festival.
Willie Mullins has claimed this title three times in the past six years and his recently acquired French import, Chacun Pour Soi
) sits surprisingly highly in the ante-post betting. The five-year-old was brought over to Ireland after winning just one of the four two mile contests he entered in France. Arguably, his best showing in all four of those runs came over fences and he is yet to appear for Mullins’ since the transfer, so it’s quite baffling to see him so high in the betting.
One Mullins’ runner worth keeping a close eye on is Pylonthepressure
). The seven-year-old finished second to Our Duke and Tombstone in maiden hurdles last season, but was forced off the track with injury for the first half of 2016. He finished second again on his return to action this season, when going to post as the 1/3 favourite, but he came out two weeks later and battled bravely to land his first hurdling victory at Limerick.
) 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.
David Pipe is yet to land a victory in the raced named after his father and he will be hoping Eamon An Cnoic
) 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.
(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.
) also looks like an exciting each-way prospect further down the betting – so much so, that he is going to be the selection in this year’s Martin Pipe. After winning the Finesse Juvenile Hurdle here at Cheltenham in 2014, Nick Williams will have fancied his charges chances in the Triumph Hurdle that spring. However, he was struck down with an injury soon after that Grade 1 win and Kentucky Hayden – who Le Rocher left 10 lengths in his wake in the Finesse Hurdle – went on to finish a close second to Tiger Roll in the Triumph at the Festival.
It took Le Rocher over two years to fully recover from his injury problems and only returned to action back in November, when he finished fourth in a competitive class two at Ascot. He was narrowly beaten by the impressive Clyne on his next appearance, before Williams' charge picked up where he left off three years ago, by winning a good quality contest at Uttoxeter at the end of January.
Good ground could be a concern – all his wins have come on ground with plenty of give – but he won a juvenile race on genuine good to soft ground by 15 lengths and he was going nicely at Ascot on his return from injury, before ring-rust set in and he fell back through the field. The Storyteller could prove very difficult to beat and Doesyourdogbite could also be a danger to the places, but Nick Williams will feel Le Rocher has unfinished business with the Cheltenham Festival and at his current odds, he looks like an excellent each-way prospect.
17/3/2017 16:50pm Cheltenham selection - LE ROCHER each-way (25/1 BetVictor)