As we build up to the Cheltenham Festival, Palace House will be featuring a series of blogs relating to the four day Prestbury Park event. The first celebrates a Champion Day for AP McCoy when he won the 1997 Champion Hurdle with Make a Stand. A film of the Martin Pipe trained six year old’s victory can be seen in the Heroes and Legends section in the National Horse Racing Museum.
There was a ten-year period during the 1980s and 90s, that Martin Pipe seemed to be able to turn base metal into gold or water into wine, in that he had the innate ability to transform seemingly ordinary horses into champions. No better example of this can be found than Make A Stand – the 1997 Champion Hurdler.
Foaled in 1991, Make A Stand was by the 1980 Derby runner-up Master Willie. With Master Willie being in-bred to Hyperion 3-4, and Royal Gunner (the sire of Gunner B), also being in Make A Stand’s pedigree, stamina would never be an issue for him.
Make A Stand was trained by Henry Candy (Master Willie’s trainer) up to midway through his four-year-old season, where he only garnered two successes – a two-year-old maiden at Newmarket and a claimer as a four-year-old at Leicester. It was after the last of those victories that he was claimed by Martin Pipe for £8,000, until then one of his co-owners was the BBC sports reporter John Inverdale, he even had a chance to join Peter Deal in the syndicate but turned the offer down - such is life.
He made his debut for Pipe at Newmarket at the end of September 1995 in a one mile six-furlong handicap only to finish sixth of thirteen. Less than two weeks later he made his hurdles debut at Exeter and was beaten 69 lengths into ninth in a Class 4 novice hurdle.
He did not return to the racecourse until May 1996 and what a change in fortunes, as he led all the way for an easy 25 length victory at Newton Abbot. Riding him that day was David Bridgwater, the jockeys on second and third were Luke Harvey and Richard Johnson, whilst pulled up, was a jockey who later on in the season would land a far greater prize on Make A Stand – A.P. McCoy.
During the 96-97 season Make A Stand proved he was nothing if not tough, as he ran twelve times during an eleven-month period over jumps and a further four on the flat. Further victories followed at Huntingdon and Hereford before he returned to the flat, the best of those four outings was in York’s Queen Mother’s Cup which he won by two and a half lengths.
After a break of three months, which must have seemed like he was having a holiday, as he was back racing over hurdles, with an all the way success at Stratford. For his next two runs he was upped in class, where his limitations appeared to be ruthlessly exposed, with a thirty-length defeat in a three-runner race at Uttoxeter and then fifth of nine in a handicap at Cheltenham at the November meeting.
Within a month that view would soon change, as he first laid claim to being anything out of the ordinary, when winning the William Hill Handicap Hurdle at Sandown’s December meeting, then followed up two weeks later in the Kennel Gate Hurdle at Ascot, with a certain A.P. in the saddle for the first time. McCoy was also in the saddle for his next race at Kempton, the Lanzarote Hurdle, which was then run over two miles. Making all the running again, what a blot on the handicap he must have been off 10 stone 3lbs.
Next stop was Newbury's Tote Gold Trophy, now the Betfair, as McCoy was injured, Chris Maude came in for the ride and yet again he just simply made all – except it never is just that simple.
Come the Cheltenham Festival, the obvious route would have been the Supreme for a novice hurdler, connections though never considered it and it was always going to be the Champion, as he was such a natural fluent hurdler. As regards the race, best to quote A.P. “We set off in front, and we never saw another rival. Make A Stand was incredible. All I had to do was sit on his back, stay on his back, and he did the rest. Measured up his hurdles, flew every single one of them, taking lengths out of his rivals as he did.” The result was never in doubt, as he won by an easy five lengths. Second that day was Theatreworld, who would lay claim to the ignominious honour of being second in three consecutive Champion Hurdles, the next two, to his stable-mate Istabraq.
Aintree has often been a graveyard for Cheltenham Festival winners and 1997 was no different, as Make A Stand, who went off the 7-4 favourite, was beaten over 17 lengths into third by the 14-1 outsider Bimsey and it may well have been a case of going to the well once too often. If ever there had been a day to hide bad news, it was that day, as just over an hour later Aintree was in complete disarray when the announcement was made that everyone had to leave the course due to a bomb scare, just before the Grand National.
Make A Stand did not see the racecourse again for 1074 days, only to bow out, as he finished 64 lengths behind Istabraq, who was winning his third Champion Hurdle. It was like one of the greatest champions saying goodbye to a great leaper of hurdles.
Blog by Guest Blogger, Grenville Davies