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Handicapper’s Corner: Pipe puts up Vieux Lion Rouge as top prospect

David Pipe has revealed that Vieux Lion Rouge represents his best chance of a victory in a handicap at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, but given the horse still holds entries in five races, working out which he will tackle is a bit of a lottery.

Luckily, with Coral now going non-runner, money back on all 27 Cheltenham races, multiple bets could be placed on Vieux Lion Rouge, with the knowledge that refunds will be in order for those that he doesn’t participate in.

Pipe stated his opinion on Vieux Lion Rouge in a Q&A with the Racing Post and the comment surely rules out a crack at either the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle or the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle, as they are not handicaps.

This leaves the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle, the Coral Cup and the County Hurdle and there are two fairly obvious reasons why the latter looks the most likely engagement.

The first is that he has not been seen beyond 2m1f thus far – which is the County Hurdle distance – and the fact that he jumps so well from the front could put the pressure on the jumping of the others at an early stage.

This strategy has reaped rewards on his last two starts, although the novice company he has been pitched in against have failed to win a single race between them since facing Vieux Lion Rouge, suggesting they are not of the highest level.

The second reason is that Knight Of Noir and Un Temps Pour Tout are Pipe’s more likely Coral Cup challengers.

Of Pipe’s other entries in the County Hurdle, Swing Bowler seems an each-way candidate against Quevega in the Mares’ Hurdle, while The Liquidator has claims in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Vieux Lion Rouge is 14/1 to win the County Hurdle and the main obstacle that he may need to overcome is that the race has been predominantly won by hold-up horses in the past decade, while the Irish have also landed six of the last seven renewals.