We look back at the career of a National Hero, West Tip
West Tip was named after the Irish Hurling team – West Tipperary, was trained by Michael Oliver and owned by Peter Luff throughout his entire career. His racing life almost ended before it started, for as a five-year-old when being ridden out, a lorry caught him on his hind quarters resulting in a gash that required over 70 stitches. It was only thanks to the expertise of the vet Peter Thorne and the care of the trainer’s wife that the unthinkable was averted; he was left though with a distinctive scar on his hindquarters, so every time he ran in the National, the TV cameras would home in on it.
West Tip made his debut just before the end of 1982, ridden by future trainer Philip Hobbs, little was expected of him as he was allowed to go off at 50-1 but it didn’t stop him winning. Before the season’s end he would acquit himself in one of the best novice hurdles that the Cheltenham Festival has seen. The 1983 running of the Sun Alliance Novice Hurdle would see many a great horse cut their teeth on the green fields of Prestbury Park. The winner Sabin du Loir, then trained by Michael Dickinson, would later prove himself to be one of the great mainstays of Martin Pipe’s stable, West Tip would finish a very honourable third. Amongst the also-rans that day was Lettoch, who would only be beaten a short-head by Special Cargo in the 1984 Whitbread Gold Cup. The one horse who will always be associated with the running of this race though is Dawn Run, after finishing second she would go onto win the 1984 Champion Hurdle and the never to be forgotten 1986 Gold Cup in one of racing’s all-time great finishes.
His novice chase season of 1983/84, saw him run with distinction at both the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals without really troubling the judge, although he did manage a six-length second at Liverpool, when ridden by John Francome. His final outing as a novice would be in the Midlands National at Uttoxeter, which then used to be run after Aintree, it would also be West Tip’s first outing with the one jockey that will always be associated with him – Richard Dunwoody. Running on unsuitably firm ground he trailed home lame in ninth place.
The season though where West Tip really came to prominence was 1984/85, after a couple of pipe openers at Warwick and Newbury, he got on the score sheet at Sandown in the Anthony Mildmay, Peter Cazalet Memorial H'cap Chase, having been well backed, he beat Canny Danny in a close finish, from then on he never looked back. Three weeks later he won the Holsten Distributors Chase (Cotswold Chase), at what is now the Cheltenham Festival Trials meeting. In beating Josh Gifford’s Door Latch a length and a half, he became the National favourite.
The two courses where he would always reserve his best were Aintree and Cheltenham and he was back at the latter for the 1985 Festival. The Ritz Club Handicap Chase over 3 miles 1 furlong, is often seen as a perfect trial for the National and this year would be no different, for in the field were Lean Ar Aghaidh and Maori Venture, who would later run with credit in future nationals. West Tip jumped the last in second place and bounded up the hill to a decisive victory – next stop was Aintree and the National. West Tip seemed to be loving every moment of it, only for the Gods to have their say on the second circuit. Hitting the front at Becher’s, something caused West Tip not to get his landing gear down in time and he bit the dust, so did Richard Dunwoody’s whip as he threw it down in frustration.
If the 1985 National was an afterthought added on half way through the year, the 86 version would be his be all and end all to the season. The season came to a gradual crescendo with a sixth in the Ritz Club at Cheltenham, followed by a convincing win at Newbury nine days later. After that all roads led to Aintree. The race went as predicted, West Tip took up the lead at the last and beat Young Driver by a comfortable two lengths.
Subsequent performances would prove that West Tip reserved his best for either Cheltenham or Aintree, with a fourth in the 1987 Gold Cup and the Grand Nationals of 87 and 88, whilst in 1989 he went two places better, to finish second to Little Polveir.
He was retired after finishing sixth in the 1991 Cheltenham Foxhunters, to then spend happy retirement with vet John Williams, opening the occasional supermarket and stepping on Des Lynam’s foot and breaking two of his toes.
Grenville Davies, guest blogger
We would like to thank Timeform for the use of the photos.