Nakir can overturn Flagship

CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL: The top two-mile chaser may be deposed by a younger rival but for the Irish it is just like the old days Greg Wood finds an option to the reigning champion

One of the best things about jump racing people is that when they express sympathy with a colleague, you know they mean it. Adrian Maguire will miss today's second day of the Festival following the death of his mother, and his place on Viking Flagship, favourite for today's Queen Mother Champion Chase, will be taken by Charlie Swan. On hearing of the booking, Swan said: "I only hope I can give him as good a ride as Adrian did last year."

It will be difficult. Twelve months ago, Maguire's effort on Viking Flagship made the difference between first and third place, after a battle up the run-in with Travado and Deep Sensation which was the toughest of the Festival. Nor is Swan's attempt to emulate him likely to be assisted by Viking Flagship's failure to progress this season. Without a win in his last three races, David Nicholson's chaser does not have the form credentials you might expect of a Cheltenham market leader.

The problem is, what can beat him? The race has often been the most exciting of the week in recent seasons, but for the unfortunate reason that there has not been an outstanding two-miler since Pearlyman. Travado has not raced since Christmas and, most worryingly, shifted from 5-2 to 4-1 in Hills' betting yesterday. Egypt Mill Prince is not championship class, Bradbury Star should need further and the rest, with one exception, are out of their depth.

That exception is Nakir. Last year's Arkle winner might have beaten Viking Flagship at Newbury last month even if the favourite had stayed upright four out, and is still improving. Indeed, the principal danger to Simon Christian's runner is probably Wild Atlantic, who is a 1,500-1 chance, but rather shorter odds to affect the result by bringing down something else.

Leaving aside the fact that his "owner", recently warned off over a gambling debt, ensured Wild Atlantic's participation by selling him to a friend for one penny, an owner does, of course, have the right to run his horse in any race he likes if he pays the entry fees. And if Wild Atlantic brings down Nakir and impedes Viking Flagship, their supporters will have every right to track down his owner and do him a mischief.

None the less, Nakir is the one to be on, even if odds of around 3-1 are unlikely to accelerate anyone's retirement. The Coral Cup, by contrast, is the sort of contest which could secure your island in the sun, particularly if you like to dabble with forecasts and Trios. Finding a horse for a place is challenge enough, however. Try Fired Earth (3.30), who could be a second Festival winner for James Fanshawe's Flat-dominated yard in Newmarket.

A roar to chill the marrow greeted Klairon Davis after yesterday's Arkle Trophy, and if Harcon can complete an Irish double in the big novice chases, the chemists in Cheltenham will run out of throat sweets. The Sun Alliance is being billed as a straight match between Britain (in the youthful but impressive form of Martin Pipe's Banjo) and Jim Dreaper's Harcon, but two-horse races are rare indeed at the Festival and Brief Gale (4.05), at around 6-1, must have every chance of defeating the market leaders.

The Irish should again start the day with a winner, though. The winning form of Treble Bob (2.15) at Punchestown reads like that of a champion now that Ventana Canyon and Tourist Attraction, third and fourth there, have filled the first two places in the opener yesterday.

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