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David Pipe Q&A: Pond House trainer previews Cheltenham Festival

David Pipe had a hard act to follow when taking charge of Pond House stables in 2006, as father Martin sent out an incredible 34 Cheltenham Festival winners and even has a race named after him at the four-day spectacular.

However, the Somerset success story has continued, with Un Temps Pour Tout giving David his 15th Festival victory when prevailing at Prestbury Park for the second year running 12 months ago.

In an exclusive interview with BetStars News, David previews the 2018 Cheltenham Festival and assesses the chances of his own contenders plus the best horses to follow.

Cheltenham Festival

Last year saw 19 of the 28 winners at Cheltenham trained in Ireland. Will they have more winners that Britain again at this year's Festival?

It's all about eras in racing, the Irish are looking really strong at the present moment and I expect them to have more winners than Britain at the Festival.

From a British perspective, Nicky Henderson has a lot of good horses going to Cheltenham but Ireland have got a very strong contingent with the likes of Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott as well as others who are bringing plenty of good horses to the Festival. For the next few years Ireland are going to be winning a lot of the big races.

Who are you backing to be leading jockey at the Festival?

As long as he makes the Festival and is fully fit, I expect Ruby Walsh to be leading jockey again, particularly given the strong book of rides he'll have during the week from Willie Mullins.

Where does Ruby rank amongst the greatest jump jockeys of all time?

Ruby is up there with the best, he's a great horseman, a very natural rider, good over an obstacle and the number of winners he's ridden, particularly at the Festival, tells its own story. But you do have to have the ammunition to ride winners like he has and riding for Willie Mullins is a dream job for any jockey.

Last year Gordon Elliott beat Willie Mullins to be leading trainer, do you think he can do it again?

Willie Mullins will be a very hard person to get past, he's got lots of ammunition, a lot of good horses even though Gordon does as well. Gordon won't let Willie have it all his own way, but Willie is always a tough man to beat at the Festival.

Is there any horse in particular that you're looking forward to seeing run at the Festival?

It has to be Samcro, he's looked mightily impressive in his performances so far this season and I think he could win any of the novice hurdles at the Festival. It looks like he'll go for the Ballymore over 2m5f and he's looked like an exceptional horse so far. He's still got to go to the Festival and perform but he appears to be a laidback horse and he's definitely the horse at Cheltenham that I'm most looking forward to seeing run.

He is the type of horse that all options are open for the future, you could be looking at Champion Hurdles, you could be looking at Gold Cups. He dropped back to two miles last time out and won with a lot in hand but I'd also expect him to stay very well.

What's the key thing to look out for in the Cheltenham handicaps?

You always want a horse that's going to the Festival with a bit of form. It's always worth looking at previous form and also seeing if a horse's handicap mark has dropped significantly. Sometimes the horses to look out for are those dropping down from graded company to the handicaps as with handicaps nowadays the horses carrying top weight have much better chances of winning those races, as shown by Un Temps Pour Tout who won the Ultima Handicap Chase last year. A lot is made about Cheltenham course form, but I don't really buy into the argument that previous experience at Cheltenham gives a horse a major advantage.

What were the most important things you learnt from your father about being a National Hunt trainer?

Success at the Festival is about having good horses, but it's also about preparation. The most important thing is you can't get away from fact, it's all about preparation and crossing the t's and dotting the i's to get the best out of your horses. Keep yourself in the best company and your horses in the worst company.

What's your favourite memory of the Cheltenham Festival?

From a personal point of view it has to be Make a Stand winning the Champion Hurdle for my father in 1997. It was a fantastic performance by horse and jockey to go out and make all the running like they did. The horse jumped amazingly, the jockey Tony McCoy had to set the right fractions and the horse had to be very willing. It was a great win and a great day.

For anyone new to racing how would you describe the Cheltenham Festival and its standing in the sport of horse racing?

The Cheltenham Festival is our Olympics. It's a massive event in our calendar and the whole National Hunt season is built around Cheltenham. Like going to any great sporting event, it's got the best of the best in the sport going head to head.

David Pipe's Cheltenham Contenders

Ramses de Teillee

He's had a good season so far but just got a bit bogged down with the softer ground last time out at Exeter, where he finished second in a three-mile chase to a good horse in Elegant Escape. There's still a lot to play out in the next two weeks ahead of the Festival but he goes there with a good each-way chance.

Eamon An Cnoic

He won very well at Plumpton last time out and deserves to take his chance at the Festival. His jumping is getting better with each run and he's a deceiving horse in that he only ever just does enough to win. We think he might be a bit ahead of the handicapper off a mark of 137.

Moon Racer

His preparation for Cheltenham has been really good so far after recovering from colic in the summer. He made his seasonal re-appearance at Newbury a few weeks ago where I thought he ran a decent race, tiring late on due to the soft ground. He's come out of that race well and he's showing at home that he still has an enthusiasm for racing. He may not quite have the pace he used to but he's still capable of running a big race at the Festival.

Warthog

This season hasn't gone according to plan for Warthog but he ran a really encouraging race in a novices hurdle at Ascot last time out and we expect the step up in trip to three miles should definitely suit him. He's got absolutely nothing to lose and is capable of running a good race. He's one to keep an eye on as he could be even better over fences next year.

Dell' Arca

The handicapper knows Dell' Arca well so his handicap mark of 140 is probably where it should be but he will be a lively outsider in whichever race he runs in at the Festival. The handicaps nowadays give horses like Dell' Arca a bit more of a chance and at a big price I could see him running a big race.

Vaniteux

He's been running on very soft ground so far this season which definitely doesn't play to his strengths. The drier the ground the better for him which bodes well for Cheltenham and although he's high in the handicap, the Grand Annual looks the obvious race for him. He's had a nice break since his last run at Kempton so springtime at the Festival could be where he reaches his prime on the better ground.

Kings Socks

He's entered for the Browne Advisory Plate having had his first run in England at Kempton in the Graduation Chase in early February coming off a long break, so he'll definitely improve for that run. He's currently rated 140 and I think he has a decent chance in the race.

David's Horses to Follow at Cheltenham

The Supreme Novices Hurdle

He's a short favourite but I was very impressed with Getabird last time out at Punchestown. His main danger may be Kalashnikov, who was an impressive winner of the Betfair Hurdle. That experience of going at that pace in a big field race will do Kalashnikov's chances no harm, but Getabird last time out was excellent, showing a lot of pace and jumping extremely well, so he'll have to be my pick.

The Arkle

Footpad as the favourite is certainly the one to beat in the race. There are a number of challengers I like. Saint Calvados has been fantastic and Brain Power has been good as well but I fancy Petit Mouchoir will improve from his last run at Leopardstown and will mount a serious challenge.

The Champion Hurdle

I would be surprised if there was an upset in this race and I expect Buveur D'air is going to win the Champion Hurdle again. Faugheen may sharpen up from his run at Leopardstown but you have to remember that he is 10 years old now and probably doesn't have the pace he once did. Faugheen is an amazing horse and has been an absolute superstar for the sport, but he's getting a little bit older so I expect Buveur D'air will win it.

The RSA Chase

Black Corton looks a rock solid prospect to me. Paul Nicholls' seven-year-old keeps on winning races and you can't knock that. There may be a question mark over whether he has the class of the top two horses in the betting but I think he'll give them a run for their money in this race. Presenting Percy has been very impressive this year and had a good race last time so is probably the one to beat, but Black Corton will give them something to think about for sure.

The JLT Novices Chase

Willoughby Court had leading claims in this race until he was ruled out of the Festival with a foot issue, but in his absence Invitation Only definitely looks like the one to beat. Willie Mullins' seven-year old has always had a big reputation and he'll improve for his run in the Flogas Chase at Leopardstown where he finished third behind another leading Festival contender in Monalee. Finian's Oscar might be the horse that can give him the most trouble but he has had a very in and out season, so I fancy Invitation Only to win the race.

The Ryanair Chase

Waiting Patiently produced a fantastic performance at Ascot, but I actually think Un De Sceaux should be a shorter price than he is for the Ryanair Chase. It doesn't matter what the ground is for him, over 2m5f at the Festival I think he will take all the beating.

The Stayers Hurdle

This year's renewal looks to be a very open race. Supasundae ran very well last time over two miles, but I'm going for Sam Spinner, who produced a very good performance in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot back in December. He'll have freshened up since then and it would be a great result for the stable if Jedd O'Keeffe's young and improving horse can get the win.

The Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle

The Irish contingent of Cracking Smart and Next Destination look like they're crying out for the three-mile trip in the Albert Bartlett but Nicky Henderson's Santini has done nothing wrong without necessarily looking like a superstar. In an open race I think Santini is a good each-way bet.

Santini to win Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle

The JCB Triumph Hurdle

Redicean has looked very good having won on all sorts of ground this season, he's also done very well on the flat and I think the trip is going to suit him really well. Mr Adjudicator has also looked impressive, whilst Apples Shakira doesn't show much at home but keeps on improving and keeps winning, but Redicean looks very slick over hurdles and can go on any ground, so I'm going with Redicean to cause an upset.

Redicean to win Triumph Hurdle

The Gold Cup

Might Bite is a worthy favourite, but it's a very open Gold Cup this year. Might Bite has shown a lot of pace but we don't know for sure that he's going to stay the 3m2½f trip at Cheltenham which will play to the strengths of the likes of Sizing John, Native River and Our Duke. So whilst Might Bite will travel very well, there's a big question mark about whether he will quite see out the trip up the hill, so you have to look at one of the other horses who will definitely stay. I would go for Native River who's had an easy campaign so far this season. He produced a nice performance at Newbury in the Denman Chase and I'm sure he will improve for the run, heading to the Festival in good form.

Native River to win Gold Cup

The Grand National

Looking ahead to the Grand National, you've got Vieux Lion Rouge, who battled hard and gave a pretty good performance last year. How do you see him doing this year?

Vieux Lion Rouge seemed to be in better form than ever this season, but the season hasn't gone according to plan so far. He ran better at Ascot last time out and he's run well in the last two Grand Nationals, and hopefully he can go there and run well again. He seems to jump the Aintree fences well and also rises to the occasion. He hasn't quite seen out the trip each of the last two years, but we're hopeful he will fare a bit better this year. He's a bigger price than he was last year, but you never know in the National, it's a lottery.

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Andrew McDermott
@a_mcdermott in Horse Racing