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Nicholls claim that the title wasnt really a priority was surely the least convincing speech since Neville Chamberlain got off the plane and waved his shopping list at a credulous nation.

Byline: Peter Thomas

FOR the most part, I'm a pretty laissez faire kind of bloke. Whatever lights your candle, I say. Stay on the fence if you want to. But there are certain issues upon which it is simply not acceptable not to have an opinion.

In the arena of popular culture, we all have one big decision to make: Stones or Beatles? And you can't say: ``Well, they're both good, aren't they, in their own way.'' It's not allowed. These are matters that must divide the nation and define the individual.

It's the same with Labour or Tory? Likewise, smoking or non-smoking? Instant Whip or Angel Delight?

Ant or Dec? Or, rather, Ant or Dec or a smack round the head with a big shovel?

In racing, it is generally financial commitment that determines allegiance. Now, however, there is an issue on which we must all stand and be counted.

So, which are you? Pipe or Nicholls? And don't try to tell me you're Henderson, because it won't wash.

It's a good one, isn't it? Just as at the end of the last Flat season we had a spirited tussle for the jockeys' title, we're very fortunate that this jump campaign has thrown up a proper race for the trainers' crown, thereby breathing life into a period that can often be about as exciting as your nan with her second-best teeth in.

As a rule, I wouldn't be paying too much attention to late-season midweek jump meetings - even as a means of disguising my lack of expertise in early-season midweek Flat meetings - but I was glued to the telly last week for the heavyweight dust-up between the Shepton Mallet Shaman and the Pond House Prestidigitator.

Jumping's two biggest guns may have steadfastly refused to acknowledge the importance of this struggle, but you only have to look at each day's racecards to distil the competitive truth from this vat of lukewarm denials.

The pair are at it hammer and tongs. Nicholls is sending out a string of well-camouflaged snipers along with a back-up team of tried-and-tested foot soldiers, while Pipe is relying on the weight of numbers as ammunition for his fearsome scattergun.

Nicholls claimed on the box on Wednesday that the title wasn't really a priority. ``If it happens, it happens; if it doesn't, it doesn't,'' hephilosophised, but this was surely the least convincing speech since Neville Chamberlain got off the plane and waved his shopping list at a credulous nation.

Are we really expected to swallow the suggestion that the hyper-obsessed Pipe and his ambitious arch-rival are simply marking time until they can nip off to a holiday chalet in Weston-superMare?

Would they have us believe they are sitting at home of an evening with a mug of Ovaltine and a copy of the new self-help manual Indifference and How to Overcome It?

When Cornish Rebel went limp on the run-in at Ayr on Saturday and threw away a sum that would have launched Nicholls to the top of the tree, did the big man shrug amusedly as Pipe offered his heartfelt condolences? No, I'll tell you what I think is really happening.

Pipe hasn't been to bed for a fortnight. He cycles round his yard in manic, everdecreasing circles into the wee small hours, chalking indecipherable runes on the doors of the boxes and dragging every third horse out for a midnight spin.

He calls David Johnson every lunchtime to tell him he'll be having six runners in the selling hurdle the next afternoon and has even rung Oliver Carter to find out where Venn Ottery is.

Nicholls has rented a cottage for Ruby Walsh in Ditcheat High Street, goes to sleep each evening with a copy of the Observer Book of Whitbread Gold Cup Winners under his pillow and has nightmares in which a small man with a trilby disappears over the horizon clicking his heels. But at least he hasn't rung Oliver Carter to find out where Venn Ottery is . . . yet.

Meanwhile, owners in both camps are holding weekly war councils, horses are being shipped in from other yards on a short-lease basis and both trainers are debating whether or not to let loose the ludicrously well-handicapped horses they were supposed to be saving until next season.

It's war, frankly, and anybody who tells you it doesn't matter is either Pipe, Nicholls or barmy.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Apr 18, 2005
Words:729
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