Racing / Cheltenham Festival: Maguire plunders on Viking

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The Independent Online
WITH A mixture of fearless betting and professional excellence, the Irish took hold of the Cheltenham Festival yesterday in a way they have not done since Dawn Run's Gold Cup. Danoli paid for the drinks, and much more, in the Sun Alliance Hurdle, while Viking Flagship is the new champion two-mile chaser this morning only because Adrian Maguire was in his saddle yesterday afternoon.

Predictions that the Queen Mother Champion Chase would be the race of the meeting were fulfilled. Though Remittance Man, the favourite, fell three out, Deep Sensation, Travado and Viking Flagship rose together at the last and were met by a wall of noise as they galloped neck-and-neck up the hill.

As one and then another nosed ahead, both Travado and Deep Sensation appeared to have more left to give than Viking Flagship. Third place seemed the most he could expect until, under Maguire's urgent, inimitable assistance, he found a final effort and heaved himself to the front a dozen strides from the line. 'You can't win contests like this without going for broke,' David Nicholson, the winning trainer, said afterwards. Maguire knows of no other way to ride.

'I think both Deep Sensation and Travado went past me going to the last,' the rider said, 'but my horse came through where it mattered most, he just doesn't know when to accept defeat.' Nicholson too paid tribute to Viking Flagship's resilience. 'I've never trained a tougher horse,' he said, 'the amount of work he stands would kill most people. It was a wonderful race and we were lucky to be part of it.'

The trainer will expect to be part of it again next year, as Viking Flagship is only seven years old. Remittance Man, too, may return. The former champion was walking tenderly immediately after the race, prompting fears that the tendon injury which kept him idle for 15 months had recurred. However, Nick Henderson, his trainer, later reported that 'he is very sore, but all right. It is not his tendons again, if it was we would be in serious trouble'.

The frantic efforts of Maguire and his rivals exhausted what little emotional energy the spectators had left following Danoli's two-length defeat of Corrouge in the opening race. It was not just the partisan Irish punters who had long since marked down Tom Foley's gelding as the banker bet of the meeting, and an individual wager of pounds 20,000 to win pounds 40,000 was laid as he shortened from 2-1 to 7-4 favourite.

It was clear that it would be a winning bet from two flights out, as Charlie Swan struck for home with Danoli barely off the bit. It was certain too that they would receive a grand ovation as they returned to the winners' enclosure, but few could have anticipated the mayhem which followed.

After being carried shoulder- high towards the winners' circle, Foley was swallowed up by dozens of his countrymen. Every phrase of his post-race interview was punctuated by cheers and handshakes, and by the time the party had finally moved towards the bar, the runners for the Champion Chase were mounted and ready to go.

'The horse is too good for me to say how good he is,' Foley said. 'I've never had one like him and I never will again. Next year's Champion Hurdle is a long way away, but we will definitely try to get there.' Danoli is offered at 12-1 for that race by Coral - four points shorter than Tuesday's new champion, Flakey Dove. Swan, though, is looking further ahead still for Danoli. 'I'd say he'll jump fences very well,' he said. 'This could be a real live Gold Cup horse.'

The Irish champion went on to complete a treble on Time For A Run (Coral Cup) and Mucklemeg (Festival Bumper), both owned by J P McManus, Ireland's most famous punter. While admitting to a large bet on Danoli, though, McManus denied that either of his own winners had carried a penny of his money. Almost pounds 50,000 in winning prize money should ease any annoyance.

There is no such consolation for Norman Williamson, currently serving a four-day riding ban. After missing out on Flakey Dove on Tuesday, Williamson saw another of his regular rides come home ahead when Monsieur Le Cure took the Sun Alliance Chase.

Spare a thought, too, for the on-course punter whose 10p line in a Jackpot pool worth almost pounds 300,000 was carried into the final leg by Dublin Flyer. It finished second.