Blazing Saddles

Lucy Johnston talks to Nicholashayne's well-known racehorse trainer, David Pipe, about his hopes for this month's John Smith's Grand National

Lucy Johnston talks to Nicholashayne’s well-known racehorse trainer, David Pipe, about his hopes for this month’s John Smith’s Grand National

David Pipe takes long strides across the yard, gives a warm handshake by way of a greeting and then leads the way into his office, the nerve centre of Pond House Racing Stables, where race targets have been plotted and thousands of races won.When we meet, David has just officially announced he has six horses entered in the 2011 John Smith’s Grand National including the very exciting prospect Or Noir de Somoza, a winner of 16 races and over �1m in prize money. “We are delighted to have him and he is a very exciting addition to our team of race entries, which includes I’msingingtheblues, Comply or Die, Piraya, Fassel and Junior. We probably have the best class of horses we’ve ever entered but there’s a long way to go before the Grand National. Now we have to concentrate on keeping them all in one piece,” he says.It’s a race he’s hungry to win once more, having saddled Comply or Die to victory in 2008. “Comply or Die ran the perfect race. Timmy Murphy always kept him out of trouble and he jumped impeccably. It was incredibly exciting and to repeat that this year would be fantastic.”Since he took over the reins from Martin, his invincible father, who was crowned champion jumps trainer 15 times and saddled more than 4,000 winners, David has rarely been out of the headlines, facing both the scrutiny of his peers eager to see if he could continue his father’s legacy, and the adoration of a new legion of fans.But with an immensely strong team behind him at Nicholashayne – his father and mother, Martin and Carol, Tom and Charlotte Scudamore, Craig Wylie, Gerry Supple, Ed Buckely and Bob Hodge to name a few – David has eaten up the pressure and come out the other side smiling, as an incredibly successful trainer in his own right who keeps adding to the Pond House legacy.In February, David had trained a winner at each of Britain’s 42 jump racing courses following Hunterview’s win at Musselburgh; in 2006 he was the first trainer to saddle 100 winners in his first season, and in 2008 he trained Comply or Die to win the Grand National and surpassed the �1m prize money mark in the same season. “There have been some real milestones in the past five years but the high point has to be Comply or Die’s Grand National win. It was brilliant. Watching Grands Crus win as easily as he did at Cheltenham in January was incredibly exciting too. He’s one of the best we’ve ever had at Pond House and we are very privileged to have him here,” said David.Born and bred in Somerset, David went to school at King’s College, Taunton, where an understanding headmaster would allow him to skip school on occasions to watch his father’s horses run. He would also spend time learning from his grandfather, the much-loved bookmaker David Pipe Snr, who sold his chain of betting offices in 1973 to buy a run-down pig farm, which later became Pond House.

David went to school at King’s College, Taunton, where an understanding headmaster would allow him to skip school on occasions to watch his father’s horses run

“I was more or less born on the back of a horse; they’ve played such an important part in my life. It’s not just about training them, it’s about finding out what makes them tick and how to keep them happy. Would one horse fair better if he lived out in a field, should another horse be moved because he’s unhappy in his stable. We also spend a lot of time on the schooling fields, teaching them to jump, and when they finally do get it together and gain confidence it’s incredibly rewarding,” he says.Despite towering above most people at 6ft 5in, David was a successful jockey in his own right, booting home some 28 winners, before he lost the battle of the scales and turned to training point-to-pointers, sending out 164 winners in all. As he offers yet another cup of tea, you glimpse the warmth for which he is renowned and which has ensured a steady stream of high-profile owners choosing him to train their horses. Once they have experienced the Pipe’s very special brand of hospitality they become enthralled by the whole camaraderie that surrounds racing.“We do like our owners to really enjoy themselves both at Pond House and at the races. Owning racehorses is an expensive business but it is meant to be fun too and we’ve had some fantastic and memorable days,” he says.With baby Jack, who was one in February, vying for his attention, while his partner, Leanne, gets her equine fix on the gallops, David’s attention turns once more to the Grand National.“When you get to Aintree the atmosphere is incredible. As the horses line up, you could hear a pin drop; there’s such an eerie silence, and then when they go there’s an almighty cheer. They approach the first fence so fast and then they’ll settle into a rhythm; you watch with your heart in your mouth, hoping they all come home.“The final straight looks like it’s a long uphill haul, but the track’s as flat as a pancake. It’s just that the finish line takes so long to come but when it does you’ve never heard a cheer like it. It’s magical,” he says.And as he plays with Jack, between checking the racing calendar, you can’t help wanting this pleasant young man from Somerset to claim another Grand National trophy.

John Smith’s Grand National is on Saturday, 9 April.Become an owner with David Pipe – syndicates, shares or full ownership packages. 01884 840715, www.Davidpipe.com