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No sign of Martin Pipe conforming even after all these years

Perhaps it is to be expected, given the character involved.

Of all the heavyweight trainers over the past 50 years, Martin Pipe has always been a southpaw.

Wired just that little bit differently, with no hint of flim or flam, Pipe was double-squiggle quirky. Still is.

Gone are the days of riding an undersized bicycle around his stable. There are not too many table tennis champions as assistant trainers, either.

Yet Pipe still has the ability to wrong-foot and blindside you, as he did when announcing he was retiring on the morning that Paul Nicholls would win his first trainers’ championship at the end of the 2005-06 season.

Nearing the end of a fascinating reflection on the Freddie Starr-owned Miinnehoma, Pipe’s sole Grand National winner, he floors you with an insight into how his brain works.

“Miinnehoma lived until the age of 29 and is buried on our farm,” said Pipe. “And I am hoping one day a university will dig him up and put him back together. To see all the bones put together… that would be fantastic!”

Most mortals would settle for a statue.

Pipe has always been a revolutionary and controversial character. He ripped up the record books with a ruthlessness that brought jealousy from many quarters.

He introduced training innovations such as blood tests, meticulous record-keeping – which allowed him to fastidiously chronicle his horses’ health – and interval training, setting the blueprint for modern training regimes.

He made three champion jockeys – Peter Scudamore, Richard Dunwoody and AP McCoy – and another potential champ, David Bridgwater, left because he could not handle the demands placed upon him.

Pipe, son of a bookmaker, dominated National Hunt racing from the late 1980s through to his retirement on the grounds of ill health.

Yet few could go to-to-toe with him and survive for too long.

The prime example was Dunwoody. He and Pipe never really saw eye to eye. Theirs was a professional liaison. Champions both, they made excruciatingly uncomfortable bedfellows.

In the early 1990s, both were at the peak of their powers. The ultra-serious jockey and unorthodox trainer were each, in their own way, bedevilled in their search for the next winner.

Martin Pipe blazed a trail with revolutionary training methods
Martin Pipe blazed a trail with revolutionary training methods (Daniel Hambury/PA)

Yet while their mutual quest to find an edge was so razor sharp that any relationship they had eventually died a death, there is one thing that they both agree on – Miinnehoma gave them a moment to cherish.

Miinnehoma had been sent to Pipe by Starr, as an unbroken three-year-old from the Doncaster sales and he was notoriously challenging.

“Freddie sent him to me and one of the first things he said was he wanted to win the Grand National. Those were his instructions,” said Pipe.

“I said to him, ‘hang on a minute, he has got to jump a fence first’. He had only won a bumper and not even seen a hurdle.

“He was very difficult to ride as he was very, very playful. He had to go in the sand ring. Sometimes he would go in there and he would put you on the floor.

“There was never any harm in him, he was quiet as a lamb really, once you got on him… and once you stayed on him!

“It was just at the start of every season when he would play up. He was very playful.”

Freddie Starr with 1994 Grand National winner Miinnehoma
Freddie Starr with 1994 Grand National winner Miinnehoma (David Jones/PA)

He also had the guts and class to match his spirited character.

Under the genius of the Pond House maestro, Miinnehoma became a high-class chaser, who justified favouritism in the SunAlliance Chase (now Brown Advisory) in a then-record time under Scudamore, and finished third in the Welsh National.

“I don’t think people realised how good he was, really,” said Pipe. “He won the Philip Cornes Hurdle at Newbury over three miles, beating Remittance Man, won the SunAlliance Chase, beating Bradbury Star, then he was second in the Rehearsal Chase at Chepstow, second to Captain Dibble at Ascot and third to Run For Free in the Welsh National.”

Yet by April 9, 1994, injuries and age had seemingly caught up with him – certainly in the minds of the betting public – when he arrived at Aintree at the age of 11.

“He had a pelvic problem,” Pipe remembered.

Pulled up behind Sibton Abbey at Cheltenham in January 1993, he did not reappear again until March the following year.

“We got a back team and pelvic team on him, including Mary Bromiley, who worked marvels – she was the one who sorted Carvill’s Hill out as well,” added Pipe.

“Our vets were very good and then he won first time out at Newbury over two and a half miles, beating Forest Sun, and he went on to the Gold Cup and he was seventh there (to The Fellow), with Adrian Maguire on board.

“I thought he ran OK, actually. He ran a half-decent race and then he went to the National.”

Dunwoody was one of the most stylish jockeys in history and few have a better record in the National
Dunwoody was one of the most stylish jockeys in history and few have a better record in the National (John Giles)

Dunwoody said: “It was only the second time I’d ridden him. I had won a handicap at Newbury with him.

“He provided me with one of my greatest highlights, because his success was so unexpected.”

Pipe laughed and added: “I don’t know what Richard was expecting, but we fancied him.

“Chester Barnes (assistant trainer and former table tennis champion) tipped him on the (‘Pipeline’) tipping line and napped him at 16-1. We did fancy him. He stayed all day.”

Pipe used to ride his bike around his Nicholashayne yard
Pipe used to ride his bike around his Nicholashayne yard (Barry Batchelor/PA)

Bar one minor mishap the race went smoothly for Dunwoody.

“At Becher’s the second time round, he pecked badly on landing. But apart from that, I could not get over how well he travelled throughout,” he said.

“Moorcroft Boy jumped the last in the lead, but he stopped in a matter of strides. He had hit the wall and if anything we had got there too soon.

“The loose horse in front of us was causing a bit of an issue, although I expected him to give us a lead, but he ducked away and I got an almighty shock when Simon Burrough on Just So arrived there at my girth.

“I was panicking a bit, but my horse picked up well and went on to win.”

The 16-1 shot had a length and a quarter to spare over Just So, with the 5-1 favourite Moorcroft Boy a further 20 lengths back in third.

Miinnehoma’s owner was not on hand to see it, however.

Pipe added: “We flew him down on the Sunday, as all the Press were here. He obviously enjoyed it. He didn’t come down very much.

“He probably regretted not being there, as he loved his racing. He was over the moon when he won, of course.

“He was ecstatic. It was a dream come true for him and for me. It was the second National Richard won. I think Richard appreciated that win more than his first.”

Dunwoody said: “You never forget your first National. Though winning with West Tip earlier was a big thrill, Miinnehoma’s victory came at a stage in my career when I was better able to enjoy and appreciate it.”

Pipe, who retired with 15 trainers’ championships between 1988-89 and 2004-05, will be 77 in May.

Just one of his 4,183 European winners was victorious in the Aintree marathon.

Pipe said: “To win the National is everything. It is great. There is nothing like it.

“It was unbelievable for anybody. You only get one go a year.

“Miinnehoma was also third in the Gold Cup the following year. He was very good.”

As was Pipe. Perhaps, someday, they will erect a statue to him. Or would that be a tad too conventional?

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