Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle Betting

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One of the newest races added to the annual Cheltenham Festival in March is the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle. Inaugurated in 2009, it is scheduled as the penultimate event on the four-day program and is aimed at giving potential champion jockeys of the future an opportunity to perform on the Festival’s biggest day.

When racing as Conditional Jump Jockeys, as defined by the Professional Jockeys Association, riders are allowed to “claim” a weight allowance of 7 pounds until they have 20 wins, 5 pounds up to 40 wins, and 3 pounds until reaching 75 wins. Also, Conditional Jockeys who have accumulated fewer than five wins are permitted to claim an extra 3 pounds when they are riding for their own stables.

The Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle is conducted as a National Hunt hurdle on the left-handed turf of the New Course. Open to horses aged four years old and upwards, the race covers a distance of two miles and four and half furlongs with nine hurdles to be jumped. A total prize fund of £50,000 has been established for the event since its inception.

The name of this unsponsored jump race refers to highly successful National Hunt trainer Martin Pipe, who won the Trainers’ Championship Award a record 15 times in his illustrious career. Before he retired at the end of the 2005~2006 season, Pipe had saddled an amazing 4,182 winners, including thirty-four at the Festival itself.

Apart from honouring the legendary trainer and opening the program to Conditional Jockeys, this event is also intended to create an opportunity for some of the promising horses that are eliminated from the Festival’s Coral Cup each year. That’s exactly what transpired in 2010, when Pause and Clause ran to a £31,310 victory here after finishing third in the Coral Cup contest the year before.

The first running of the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle in 2009 certainly set the bar high for excitement. Martin Pipe’s own son, trainer David Pipe, brought seven entries to the starting line, hoping to put his name next to his father’s on the event. One of the Pipe horses was a six-year-old named Big Eared Fran, who had just come away with a win in the EBF Final at Sandown the previous Saturday and was listed here as the 7/2 favourite.

Big Eared Fran set a brisk pace for the field of 24 runners and was still holding the lead as they turned for home. But in the closing stage, the six-year-old tired, allowing the Nicky Henderson-trained Andytown to take over and dash to the finish line first, paying 25/1 with runner-up Midnight Chase in tow at 100/1 odds. Pipe’s chaser held on for third.

The event is still too new for trends to play a role in predicting the outcome. However, among all the various Handicap Hurdles conducted at the Cheltenham Festival over the past 16 years, 26 out of 50 winners had also won their last time out, and that is from among fewer than 20% in the overall representation. It is a good bet that the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle will continue in this tradition. One might look for Irish mounts to prevail, too, following their strong start.

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