“I wanna tell you a story”

Tuesday March 28th 6.15pm

This is very definitely the race that got away. Nothing I enjoy more than identifying novice hurdlers who are given an opening handicap mark that grossly under-estimates their ability. I was sure I had found one in The Storyteller trained by Gordon Elliott. Caught my eye on hurdling debut when I was watching the much touted Monbeg Notorious and The Storyteller was running all over him but came down at the second last. The Storyteller then ran a strong second to a Graded bound Monalee before hacking up at Down Royal. In the post-race interview Elliott said the owners “liked a runner at Cheltenham”. The Martin Pipe seemed the obvious target if he could get a mark of OR145 or less.

Elliott then pulled a masterstroke. He entered twelve horses for the handicaps for the Trials meeting at Cheltenham at the end of January. That dozen included the likes of Tombstone, Diamond King, Squouateur, Runfordave and The Storyteller. The BHA handicapper gave The Storyteller OR138 and I piled in at 25/1. No way could that mark go up by 7lb+ for a horse standing in his box. Elliott didn’t run any of the twelve at that Cheltenham trials meeting. He was fishing. With an English mark in the bag he had six weeks to work his magic and knew what he was aiming at.

As it happens, with The Storyteller’s form being continually franked the Irish handicapper did raise The Storyteller 4lbs to OR142 but when the Cheltenham weights came out the British handicapper had just followed suit. By now The Storyteller was as short as 5/1 favourite and the bullish trainer was putting him up as his charity bet at every Cheltenham preview he attended. Donagh Myler had a steering job!

The last Saturday morning before the Festival Racing Post headline “Well-fancied The Storyteller ruled out of Martin Pipe” was a dagger to the heart. “”Unfortunately The Storyteller pulled a muscle while exercising this morning and will not make it to the festival.” Of all the horses he galloped that morning, why him? No problem for the owners, disappointment yes, but they had Runfordave ready and waiting to come off the bench and he ran a great race to finish third. His mark has risen two pounds from OR140 to OR142. Now the bit that really rubs salt in the wound. Gordon Elliott DID win the race with the Gigginstown horse, Champagne Classic, that owner Michael Leary later described as “one of his duds”. How many of you noticed it was backed from an opening show of 20/1 to an SP of 12/1? Some dud!

Sorry but the Storyteller would have had those two and all the rest for breakfast!

However the cat is out of the bag and if The Storyteller is fit enough for Punchestown I wouldn’t be surprised if he is in the Grade 1 Novice hurdle on the Friday. He is still off OR142 which makes the Saturday handicap over the same trip an option. The Storyteller will make one hell of a novice chaser!

Talking of which, despite the owners opinion you have to take Champagne Classic seriously over fences as this son of Stowaway follows in the hoofprints of a couple of serious horses who have won this race for Gigginstown, namely Don Poli and Sir Des Champs!

So what else was in the 2017 version of:-

Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Cheltenham 2017 2m 4f 0-145 New Course

Not a lot to report during the race. The winner, Champagne Classic, kept in very simple, out of trouble three wide throughout, never missed a beat at his hurdles, took it up running to the last, led by two lengths and maintained the margin to the line.

Verni was second and this lightly raced 8yo did well with to compete with so many young improvers. Phillip Hobbs sent him here after winning a ‘seniors’ hurdle at Taunton and there may be more to come at Aintree, Ayr, Perth? Mark up 4lbs to a still workable OR139.

Elliott had the third Runfordave who many think will now step up to three miles. If the trainer thinks he can snaffle a race with him at Fairyhouse or Punchestown or anywhere else in Ireland I can’t see him coming to Aintree.

Runfordave Runfordave’s revised BHA rating will not be published until he’s entered in another British handicap but it looks pretty obvious the assessor has rated the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle around Gordon Elliott’s five-year-old, who finished a very solid third under Donagh Meyler. Runner-up Verni has been bumped up 4lb to 139, fourth Coo Star Sivola up 2lb to 140 and fifth Thomas Campbell is also up to 139 from 137. This has a rich history of producing quality future chasers and while Runfordave could certainly be the next one to enhance the trend, he’s also of significant interest for the more immediate future. He won so well on heavy ground at Clonmel in February and stamina looked his forte again at the Festival as he boxed on bravely on ground probably slightly quicker than he cares for. He already looks to be crying out for three miles and a move up in trip is expected to bring about further progression. The opening event on Grand National day itself, a race Gordon Elliott ran three in last spring, looks tailor-made. (Matt Brocklebank sportinglife.com March 23 2017)

The fourth horse Coo Star Sivola looked the benchmark horse. The 5yo certainly acts well here in this part of Gloucestershire and this was a solid performance as he set many of the fractions. If they decide to keep him hurdling next season he could have a profitable time in any C2 handicap here from 2m-2m4f, from the Greatwood to the Coral Cup/County before he goes novice chasing as a 6yo.

If there was any horse who could have had a bit more luck it was the fifth, Thomas Campbell, who had to switch running to the last but the front two had flown. Spring ground brings out the best of this horse and I would expect him to be an Aintree player in whichever race his trainer, Nicky Henderson, chooses.

Thomas Campbell He didn’t have much cover early on in the Martin Pipe, racing on the outside of the eventual winner, and he appeared to over-race slightly, before losing his position going into the back straight. From that point on it was a really encouraging effort and none were finishing quite as well as he up the hill. This was his first go in a handicap and the experience looked like it might do him the power of good as he still looked inexperienced when first asked to go about his business. Being nudged up a couple of pounds won’t do his chances of getting in the better races any harm and on this basis he’s potentially still a step or two ahead of the assessor from 139. Ben Aitken

Henderson had another in this race, Rather Be, who was shorter in the market but was unfortunately put out of the race early on when Gibralfaro fell. Health permitting he would also be of interest next time.

Stanjamesblog Fri, 03/24/2017 @jackh1092 What are the plans with RATHER BE after his early fall in the Martin Pipe? He never comes out of his races that well and was quite sore after Cheltenham but he’s back on track now and we’ll look at where to go with him next. I really fancied his chances at the Festival so it was disappointing what happened. He will run again this season with a bit of luck.

Others to note were No Comment, who made up his ground too quickly from two out and didn’t get up the hill and Battleford who was too far back in a slow run race but that will put him spot on for Punchestown. Another Mullins title chasing foot soldier!

A race full of exciting prospects but not the Story I wanted to Tell!!

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