Thirty years ago the Somerset based trainer Martin Pipe hit the headlines when his horse Strands Of Gold won the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup (now the Ladbrokes Trophy) at Newbury. The nine year old’s victory in the prestigious steeplechase handicap helped Martin Pipe secure his first National Hunt trainers title in the 1988-89 season, a feat he repeated a further fourteen times. He ended career with a total of 4,182 winners, which also included the Grand National with Minnehoma in 1994. He retired in 2006 when he handed the reins over to his son David.
Strands Of Gold was originally in the stable of Jimmy Fitzgerald at Malton, Yorkshire, who trained the horse to 4th place, beaten nine lengths, in the 1986 Newbury jumping showpiece. Although the horse had just slightly lost his way; Pipe was delighted when the owners decided to move him to Pond House.
At 16.2 hands high Fitzgerald thought he had a genuine Grand National contender so when the horse was given the feather weight of 10st 3lb’s by the handicapper for the 1988 event the Pipe team dreamed of Aintree glory. On the 9th April 1988 in his first start for his new trainer, the 20/1 chance with stable and champion jockey, Peter Scudamore on board jumped and travelled well until at Becher’s Brook on the second circuit he buckled on landing when in the lead. As Pipe recollected “He was going extremely well and full of running”. He looked certain at the time to be involved in the finish”.
Two weeks later Strands of Gold produced an excellent effort to come third in the Whitbread Gold Cup at Sandown behind the legendary chaser, Desert Orchid.
The following season Strands Of Gold made his reappearance in the Hennessy Gold Cup on 26 November 1988 carrying only 10st and went to post as a 10/1 chance. In a high quality field favourite for the race was Cavvies Clown at 7/2, who was trained by the 1987-88 champion National Hunt winning trainer, David Elsworth. One of the top weights was the French invader Nupsula who had shocked the jumping world when winning the King George VI Chase at Kempton in December 1987 for Francois Doumen. Other notable horses amongst the twelve runner field were the front running Mr Frisk, Kildimo the 1987 Sun Alliance Chase Winner and the seven year old Handy Trick from the yard of Arthur Stephenson. Mr Frisk subsequently won the 1990 Grand National in the fastest ever time.
As expected the chestnut, Mr Frisk, who loved the top of the ground set the early pace with Strands Of Gold handily placed. The French raider made a bad mistake at the fourth fence and finished last. Jumping the cross fence five out turning for home, Mr Frisk still led but Scudamore was beginning a forward move overtaking the weakening duo of Kissane and Handy Trick. The nine year old Strands Of Gold was jumping immaculately and grabbed the lead from Mr Frisk with two to jump.
The race was now over as a contest and Scudamore cruised home to success over Newbury’s big fences and ditches by six lengths, ahead of Handy Trick with long time leader Mr Frisk in third place. The winner failed to reach such heights again and we are indebted to Martin Pipe himself to complete the story of the horse at the conclusion of his National Hunt career
“After he had finished his National Hunt racing career he ran in Hunter Chases, finishing fourth at Kempton and winning at Bangor when ridden by Florent Monnier, who now trains in France. Strands of Gold raced in point-to-points in 1993 and at the age of 14 he finished third in the Tiverton Harriers Members Race at Kingston St Mary as well as an Open contest at Bratton Down in the hands of David Pipe. He was then retired to Straight Ash Farm where he lived out his days with my secretary Gail Harrison and her partner Raymond Alford along with another old celebrity, Corporal Clinger.
Strands Of Gold was a kind, genuine and honest horse who loved to be looked after and spoilt. He eventually passed away peacefully at the age of thirty on the banks of the River Culm in the village of Culmstock.”
Many thanks to Martin Pipe for his kind contributions to this blog.
Blog by Stephen Wallis, Visitor Services.