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Pipe a live outsider to be crowned top Festival trainer

It’s no surprise to see the usual suspects at the head of the betting for who will be top trainer at the Cheltenham Festival, with Willie Mullins the red-hot favourite at 2/5 with Coral to land the honours.

Paul Nicholls is next best in at 7/2 followed by Nicky Henderson at 4/1. There is no doubting that they have very powerful teams heading into the four-day spectacular, but for those looking for value away from the big trio, a case can be made for David Pipe at 33/1.

The Pond House handler isn’t blessed with with the strength in depth of the main protagonists, but he does have three leading contenders to go to war with and a whole host of interesting handicap entries.

King’s Palace is the 11/4 favourite with Coral for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, and looks to hold outstanding claims.

He is unbeaten in three runs over hurdles this season, and put in one of the best displays of slick jumping seen by a novice on the latest of those, when slamming Masters Hill by 14 lengths in a Grade 2 contest at Cheltenham.

The six-year-old is going to be extremely hard to beat, and looks the “banker” of the meeting for the Pipe team.

Red Sherlock also has leading claims in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle, for which he is currently the 9/2 second favourite behind Mullins’ Faugheen.

The gelding won his first three bumpers in good style, and they included a listed contest over 2m 1f at Cheltenham.

He has since made a seamless transition to the obstacles, winning two minor events at Southwell and Wetherby before stepping up into Grade 2 company and scoring over 2m 5f at Cheltenham last time out.

The six-year-old traveled well throughout that contest and found plenty for Tom Scudamore’s urgings to see off the Mullins-trained Rathvinden by a cosy 2 1/2 lengths, with the pair pulling 29 lengths clear of the third home.

That form has a solid look to it, and the fact he has course and distance winning form to his name is a major plus.

If the highly touted Faugheen does have any chinks in his armour, then Red Sherlock looks the one to take advantage and land the spoils.

The other big player for the Pipe team is Dynaste, who is being targeted at the Ryanair Chase following the news that Cue Card has been ruled out of the race through injury.

He disappointed last time out in the King George at Kempton when finishing a well-beaten fifth to Silviniaco Conti but that race has proved to be an excellent trial for his Festival target.

Five of the last nine winners of the Ryanair had run in the King George, and that includes beaten horses.

The grey won on his chasing debut at Prestbury Park over the 2m 5f trip of the Ryanair and also finished an excellent runner-up to Benefficient in the 2m 4f Jewson Novices’ Chase at last year’s Festival.

He also has Grade 1-winning form to his name, and that is something which five of the last six winners had under their belt.

The eight-year-old is the 4/1 joint-favourite with Coral for the Ryanair and the race conditions look perfect for him.

If three aforementioned horses do the business, then Pipe will realistically need to find another two winners to be in with a real shout of being crowned champion trainer.

He has some useful novice hurdlers in the shape of The Liquidator, Dell’ Arca, Doctor Harper and Vieux Lion Rouge, who all have entries in handicaps, as well as novice contests.

Pipe’s runners always command the utmost respect in handicaps, and he also has some interesting contenders in the shape of Ballynagour, Edmund Kean, Goulanes, Our Father, Swing Bowler and Tullyesker Hill.

It’s a big ask to win one, let alone two, of what are the most fiercely competitive handicaps run all season, but if any trainer can pull it off then the shrewd Pipe would be high on most people’s lists.