I'm writing this in deepest Somerset, in a country pub, with a spartan table and chair, in a room just off the main bar; an environment that just about qualifies as workable.
Workable. Capable of or suitable for being worked upon.
Workable is an interesting word, more so when a trainer uses it in conjunction with a handicap mark of one of his horses, and even more so when the horse's handicap mark is a full 15 lb higher than when it last ran. Gevrey Chambertin is the horse to whom David Pipe was referring, and the very fact that he suggested the new mark was 'workable', when he later described a 6 lb rise for Tanerko Emery as 'harsh', tells us everything we need to know.
Words like 'workable' probably mean exactly that when Pipe Jnr, who has trained eight Cheltenham Festival winners, is in private conversation with Pipe Snr, winner of thirty-four Festival races, and there are other contextual phrases such as 'thrown in', 'snip' and 'the next Gaspara' to put it in perspective, but the scale is different when talking to the assembled press, a scale on which 'workable' is more akin to 'still got a plenty in hand'. And you can see why from reviewing the Wincanton win.
'Wincanton wasn't a great race, but he did it easily,' said Pipe of Gevrey Chambertin, or Geoffrey as he's known in the yard, a full brother to George (Grands Crus) . 'He had it easy last season, running just twice, and he's done nothing but improve this term, including coming through some battles, making a man of him.'
Pipe went through the rigmarole of announcing all the races that Geoffrey was in, but did emphasise that he 'put him in the handicaps' that morning, with extra emphasis, to my ear at least, on the Coral Cup, which makes sense in view of what he had to say about Close House, as we'll come to later. A 15 lb hike is a lot, in anyone's language, but 'workable' in Pipe language is something to hone in on, and it may pay to take action. An action speaks louder than a word, especially when that word is workable.
Gevrey Chambertin was the fifth horse to be paraded in the makeshift paddock that was the helipad. When first arriving, I was directed towards the helipad. Yes, the helipad. Rather than pretend like a helipad was a part of my everyday life, I stood motionless for some time until a passing Martin Pipe, as lively and limber as ever, like a veteran sheepdog, gathered me and several others up to manoeuvre us where we needed to be, with mannerly barks of 'this way, this way'.
The first model - perhaps first by significance and not just chance - to pose on the literal runway was Goulanes, 'one of our better chances of the week', though in what race is still up in the air. Roger Brookhouse, the owner, is apparently 'quite keen to run in the RSA', but the fact that David Pipe said not once but twice that he 'stays very well' indicates that the four-mile National Hunt Chase may be more in his mind. However, the National Hunt Chase is clearly the target for Buddy Bolero, who Timeform rate higher (141p) than Goulanes (133p). An imposing horse, by far the biggest on show, Buddy Bolero is 'growing and progressing all the time,' according to Pipe, and the 'out-and-out galloper' summary is in synch with his four-mile pretensions. Whatever happens at the Festival, Buddy Bolero is 'right in the mix for races like the Welsh National' next year. For 'races like', see 'lifetime aim'.
'The darkest of dark horses' was how Pipe introduced Flying Cross, a classy recruit from the Flat (third in 2010 Irish St Leger for Aidan O'Brien) whose tendon injury meant he hasn't, and won't, run prior to the Festival, but who has been impressing enough in his homework to be aimed at one of the novices, either the Supreme or the Neptune (still in the Champion but reportedly won't run in that). 'It's a big ask, but we think and hope he's up to it. We galloped him this morning and it was his best work yet.'
Where Pipe speaks with confidence about Flying Cross, and indeed The Liquidator, a horse who he believes is 'tailor-made for the bumper' (Red Sherlock won't run again this season) and very much in the same mould as Liberman, Martin's 2003 winner, David is a little more coy when it comes to his biggest gun of all, Dynaste, and understandably so after Grands Crus came unstuck in last year's RSA following an identical preparation. Even now, he won't commit him fully to the RSA, with the Jewson also under consideration, more so than you or I might think.
'I'm doing a Cheltenham preview night at Exeter races next week and John White (Dynaste's owner) said he's coming along to find out which race we're going for!'
'I don't think the Feltham this year was so strong as last, but then again Dynaste is a much more straightforward horse than Grands Crus.'
From my point of view, Pipe needn't worry. The Feltham was boosted by Hadrian's Approach narrow miss against Unioniste at Newbury, and Dynaste, who has jumped brilliantly so far including around Cheltenham, is a cut above his RSA rivals. 'Of course he's my best chance of the week,' said Pipe. 'It's pressure, but a great type of pressure, having a horse like Dynaste.' The wounds from Grands Crus, stuffed when 6/5 favourite in last year's RSA, still seem surprisingly raw, but it's a different horse and a different year, and the lazy comparisons would barely be made if Dynaste was in a different stable.
While we're on Grands Crus, despite having two entries (Ryanair and World Hurdle), he's 'not sure' to run at Cheltenham. 'The engine is still there,' promised Pipe, but they don't want to rush him following his latest flop at Cheltenham, for which all sorts of excuses were forward, including the ground, the quick turnaround, and the discovery of ulcers, prompting a paternally supportive 'we didn't have ulcers in my day' shout from mischevious Martin.
In terms of well-being, none looked better to me than Close House. The Pertemps has obviously been the plan all along, with Pipe virtually admitting as much, husbanding him after his December win in a qualifier at Wincanton, and the declaration that the 7 lb rise for that was 'not too bad' probably isn't a million miles from 'workable' I would suggest.
Tanerko Emery's treatment was the one he described as 'harsh', raised 6 lb for finishing third in the Welsh Champion Hurdle, but he went on to say that Ffos Las was something of a forethought (if afterthought is after the event) with Cheltenham in mind, having planned for a break, and that Tanerko Emery can and will be made sharper than he was that day. Pipe had more time and words for Tanerko Emery than any other horse he paraded, apparently something of an apple of his eye, and though in the novice events he implied that handicaps would be his likelier destination, with the County mentioned first and 'Dad's race' second.
As for the any other business section, Swing Bowler is likewise in line for the County, rather than the mares' race, the enigmatic His Excellency will go for the Arkle if up to his owner and the Grand Annual if up to the trainer, Junior has his name against the Pertemps, while The Package may not even run in the three-mile handicap as per usual, as it's all about the National with him this year, and he's as likely to head for the Grimthorpe at Doncaster.
In summary, Pipe might not have the ammunition of a Nicholls let alone a Henderson this year, but both those trainers would love a Dynaste, who's the one box office ticket for Pond House at Cheltenham. But it's the handicaps where David Pipe thrives, with seven of his eight Festival winners doing it in a handicap, the most workable races of the week, and history tells us that the Pipes, Martin and David combined, know a workable mark when they see one and say it only sparingly, so take particular note of the word used to describe Gevrey Chambertin's handicap rating: 'workable'.
Check out our video from the David Pipe media day