A coach party of Chepstow Racecourse Annual Members were lucky enough to visit the famous Pond House stables of top trainer David Pipe in Devon last Thursday, only to find that their tour guides were genuine racing legends. David’s father Martin Pipe the retired multiple champion trainer and his assistant trainer Chester Barnes spent several hours with our group on the gallops and at the stables. Martin Pipe transformed jump racing in his heyday in the 80s and 90s, so it was fantastic for our group of racing fans to be able to spend time with him.
Pipe Senior was a pioneer in racehorse training, a 15 times champion trainer who brought in the modern era of racing. He wasn’t satisfied with doing what everyone else was doing and he challenged boundaries in every direction. He thought other people’s horses looked fat and unfit, so he set about building facilities to produce fitter horses. At the time he was frowned upon, but he brought in new ideas such as interval training and regular blood testing which are now the established methods. He went on to train over 4000 European winners.
The Pond House stables in Nicolashayne near Wellington were built out of a derelict pig farm and he added a swimming pool, indoor covered gallops, a laboratory and many other facilities as he picked up inspiration from human athletes and from other sports. Years of research into regular blood testing took some of the guesswork out of deciding whether to run a horse, with markers in their blood indicating whether they were in peak form. The attention to detail is fascinating, just one small example is the fact that some horses have a several metre wide photograph of woodland in their stables, to help them relax.
With Pipe’s entry into racing coming through his bookmaker father, some enormous gambles were landed along the way. Among his highest profile winners were Miinnehoma in the Grand National and Granville Again and Make A Stand in the Champion Hurdle, among 34 Cheltenham Festival winners. Local racegoers will remember his 9 time Chepstow winner Potentate. He also trained 5 Coral Welsh Grand National winners in Bonanza Boy (twice), Run For Free, Riverside Boy and Carvill’s Hill, who put up one of the most impressive chasing performances ever seen in 1991.
With his also retired assistant trainer and great character Chester Barnes, (previously England No. 1 at table tennis!) they were a fascinating and very amusing double act as they regaled our group with stories of their big gambles, racing gossip, and the background to their success. When Martin retired in 2006 he handed over the reins to his son David, who has become a successful trainer in his own right. His winners have included a Grand National winner in Comply or Die, 14 Cheltenham Festival winners and a Hennessy Gold Cup winner in Madison du Berlais.
The Pipes really did look after the Chepstow members well and are great supporters of ours in terms of runners. I hope they have a successful season.
All racecourses offer annual membership – at some it is just a season ticket but we try to offer our Members a more sociable experience. Our previous stable visits have been to the top yards of Paul Nicholls and Jonjo O’Neill as well as to our local trainers. We hold coach trips to other racecourses, the next being to Taunton in November. We also hold events such as a ‘walk the course’ morning in the spring. At every meeting there is a round of a keenly contested tipping competition, with prizes awarded throughout the year.
From October onwards Chepstow’s annual members will also have the use of a large modern track facing bar at all race meetings. This is one of the benefits of the flood damage we suffered earlier in the year, as we have been able to refit several areas of the grandstand. This new bar with a full length balcony will rival Members facilities at any racecourse in the country offering a warm, spacious and comfortable base, with spectacular views of the racing. This is definitely something to consider for regular racegoers. If you would like to have a look at this fantastic new facility or would like to know more about membership, please do give us a call.
Chepstow’s next race meeting is the Jump Season Opener meeting on Saturday 13th October (Oktoberfest) and Sunday 14th October (Food and Countryside Day).