THE battle to be the top National Hunt trainer in Britain is going down to the wire.
And the combatants - the current champion Martin Pipe and his redoubtable challenger Paul Nicholls - are sending a small army of horses to the final meeting of the 2003/4 jump racing season at Bangor-on-Dee tomorrow
Pipe has won the title for countless years and Nicholls has been the regular bridesmaid of late.
Prize money decides who comes top - and the title-holder is in front. In fact, Nicholls needs to win a big pot to turn deficit into advantage.
But every race counts and, while Pipe has entered 11 horses in the six Bangor-on-Dee races, his rival has nine in four of them.
The present champ gives only the Jane McAlpine Memorial Hunters' Chase a miss, but he has four horses engaged in the Moors Andrew Thomas Handicap Hurdle.
Among the jockeys, Tony McCoy has comfortably retained the title he's held for 10 years in spite of missing part of the season with a broken arm. He has just gone past the 200 winners mark and winners are what count among the riders.
The championship among the owners is still undecided. David Johnson, most of whose horses are trained by Martin Pipe, leads by a few thousand pounds from Irishman J P McManus. Both have three entries each for Bangor-on-Dee.
The 2003/4 National Hunt season ends tomorrow week.
Grand National winner Amberleigh House will make his first racecourse appearance since his Aintree victory at Bangor-on-Dee Races tomorrow.
The horse - stabled at Cholmondeley - will parade during the afternoon a fortnight after his great day.
Tomorrow is charity day at Bangor-on-Dee where funds will go to the Clwyd Special Riding Centre at Llanfynydd, near Wrexham.
Forty minutes before the first race, the Children's Pony Stakes will be held over about half a mile from the racecourse's water jump to the finishing line. Seven children from the Wynnstay Pony Club each raised a minimum of £100 to ride. Last year, £2,000 was given to charity.
Businesses from the region are generously sponsoring several of the afternoon's races to contribute towards the charity. They include North West independent law firm Hill Dickenson, chartered accountants Moors Andrew
780323. Thomas, wood panel products maker Kronospan and Holywell speciality chemicals business Warwick International.
A race is also named after Anne, Duchess of Westminster, the owner of legendary Irish steeplechaser Arkle who died last year.
Mrs Jane McAlpine, the late wife of Bobby McAlpine, past chairman of Bangor-on-Dee Races, is remembered with the annual running of the Jane McAlpine Memorial Hunters' Steeple Chase for which a challenge trophy will be presented to the winning owner.
The first race is at 2.10pm. Gates open at 12.40pm. A free bus service runs from Wrexham Station to the racecourse at 12.40pm and returns after racing. Those people with train tickets have priority.
Admission to the Course Enclosure is £6 while the Paddock Enclosure is £13. Accompanied children enter free.
More information is available on the website www.BangorOnDeeRaces.co.uk or contact the racecourse on 01978