Handicappers' Corner: Round of applause for Pipe

The Badger Ales took place at Wincanton

Jumps Handicapper Phil Turner looks through the best performances of the weekend...

"... the chances are Standing Ovation will carry on improving for a good while yet and, if he does so, graded novices could even become an option for connections this winter."

Record-breaking trainer Martin Pipe had few peers when it came to navigating horses on a remarkable rise through the handicap ranks, the most notable example being Make A Stand, who won off a BHA mark of just 114 at Stratford just five months before landing the 1997 Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, with a further four wins (including three valuable handicaps) coming in the interim.

Therefore, it seems likely that Pipe senior would approve of how his son David has handled the progressive handicap chaser Standing Ovation (Timeform rating c132) so far this autumn. Admittedly, cynics may point to a couple of "quiet" runs over inadequate trips during the gelding's novice hurdling days which contributed to his lowly initial BHA handicap mark, but there is probably more to Standing Ovation's transformation this autumn than that alone. Indeed, a combination of decisions by David Pipe seem to have worked the oracle with him - namely the fitting of a tongue strap, Conor O'Farrell taking over as regular jockey since switching to fences and, perhaps most importantly, the addition of cheekpieces on his last three starts.

Lack of concentration was certainly an issue on the first of Standing Ovation's wins, when he had only a neck to spare over Qianshan Leader at Exeter last month off a mark of just 94 (which should have been 92 but for him being 2 lb out of the weights!). Standing Ovation has been far more professional in headgear for all three wins since then and made a mockery of his latest BHA mark (120) when running away with the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton on Saturday. It is rare to see a competitive handicap such as the latter sewn up so far from home, so the chances are Standing Ovation will carry on improving for a good while yet and, if he does so, graded novices could even become an option for connections this winter.

The form stacked up pretty well behind Standing Ovation at Wincanton, with few hard-luck stories on show, though third-placed Court By Surprise (c133+) probably would have finished closer but for interference at a vital stage and he may yet do better, particularly if his stable's current rich vein of form continues.

Court By Surprise's connections were in winning form just 24 hours later when Gullinbursti (c147+) ran away with a novice handicap chase at Market Rasen, scoring by 27 lengths. Admittedly, the race rather fell apart behind him on Sunday, but Gullinbursti was mixing it with the likes of Harry Topper (c152) and Rocky Creek (c150p) last autumn before losing his way later in 2012/13 and, in common with most Emma Lavelle-trained runners, simply looks a different proposition this time around.  

Gullinbursti is still eligible for novice chases this season and, strictly on Timeform ratings, would probably have been a better option for his stable than Fox Appeal (c141+) in Saturday's Rising Stars Novice Chase at Wincanton. That said, Fox Appeal still acquitted himself well in finishing second to Wonderful Charm (c148p) in what looked an up-to-scratch renewal of this Grade 2 event despite just four runners (recent winners include Houblon des Obeaux, Silviniaco Conti and Wishfull Thinking). Rating small-field graded events can often be tricky but, as those recent winners attest, it usually pays to take a positive view of this Wincanton race and Wonderful Charm deserves to be viewed as the best novice chaser seen out so far on British soil, particularly as he arguably would have scored even more convincingly on Saturday but for rather allowing the runner-up get first run on him.

The Paul Nicholls stable also came out on top in another four-runner novice  featuring above-average chasing recruits held early on Saturday afternoon, with Hinterland (c137+) taking advantage of a final-fence exit by Grandouet (c136p) to finally open his account in this sphere. Given that both geldings were rated significantly higher over hurdles (Grandouet's Timeform rating over hurdles was 164), the bare form of this race could clearly be rated higher, but it seems prudent to rate it around the pick of Hinterland's form from last season for now.

Grandouet's connections might have been out of luck there, but they visited the winner's enclosure later in the afternoon thanks to French import Kentucky Hyden (h125+), who made light work of a simple task on his British debut and promises to be one of the leading juveniles over the next few weeks. 

Far West (h146), of course, headed the home-based juvenile rankings for much of 2012/13 and made a satisfactory return to action when runner-up in the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton, in doing so providing a further boost to the form of last season's Triumph Hurdle, which clearly bodes well for that race's runaway winner Our Conor (h165p). The latter gelding's lofty Timeform rating gives some indication as to the task ahead for Elite Hurdle winner Melodic Rendezvous (h156p) if he's develop into a leading Grade 1 two-mile hurdler, but that's not to detract from what was another highly taking display by this progressive gelding, who has now won three of his four starts over hurdles. Indeed, he'd arguably have won even more comfortably on Saturday but for a slightly untidy jump two out and he'll be well worth his place in better company over the coming months - as Standing Ovation has proved, it can be costly to ignore horses when they're on a strong upward curve.

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