racing Commentary Christian a great believer in Nakir

RICHARD EDMONDSON NAP: Tu Opes (Southwell 4.40) NB: Aquado (Southwell 3.40)
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The Independent Online
It was schooling morning on the Kinnersley gallops and Jamie Osborne rode over to Simon Christian to report his recently arrived French import was good, but he carried his head a little high.

Christian's head lad thought the assessment a little harsh. "Bollocks," he said. "You don't get much better than that."

The head lad was John Burke and he would have enjoyed reminding Osborne of the accuracy of his judgement on Saturday after Nakir had completed his preparation for the Queen Mother Champion Chase by defeating the title holder, Viking Flagship, at Newbury. The Grand National-winning jockey, though, is no longer with us, following a heart attack on Wednesday at the age of 41. His memory, however, filled Christian's mind when Nakir returned from success in the Game Spirit Chase.

"It may have sounded trite at the time, but I was thinking very much of John after the race," Christian said yesterday. "Perhaps he was having a smile.

"John was with me for four years. He was a great help, a very competent horseman and a very nice man to have around. He latched on as quickly as I did that Nakir was a bit extra special."

Opinion remained divided yesterday as to whether Nakir would have been special enough to win if Viking Flagship had not fallen four our. David Nicholson, the trainer of the latter, once again showed that his analysis seems to be better after the heat of the moment has passed by yesterday retracting comments he had made on Saturday.

Nicholson initially blamed a hole in the course for facilitating his horse's collapse. "In hindsight, I think Viking Flagship made his own error," was the revised version yesterday. In addition, Nicholson withdrew his hard words for the officials when he realised the meeting had been abandoned after five races because the course vehicles could not operate in the dreadful conditions.

Ladbrokes believe Viking Flagship himself has become a less reliable conveyance and make him a 7-4 chance (from 5-4) to retain his crown. Nakir, who is a flagship of another sort, is in to 4-1 (from 7-1).

Following a torrid summer, when the yard's ownership changed and Christian handed in his licence temporarily, the trainer needs the positive publicity that fills stable boxes. Kinnersley, with its cricket pitch and Robert Adam- designed follies breaking up the skyline, has been the home to many Fred Rimell-trained Grand National winners, but these days there are as many ghosts as horses.

Christian has just 25 boxes filled (the yard has in fact never had more than 40, even when Rimell was collecting championships), and he knows that even the most thorough pamphlet campaign would be no match for a purposeful four minutes from his standard bearer at the Festival.

"Every yard, including the big ones, need to produce top horses," he said. "So Nakir is very important to us. If you have horses in your yard that aren't running very well the owners seem to be able to put up with that if they see something else going well.

"I think Nakir has shown we're capable of producing them if they're good enough."

Trainer-speak before big races rarely gets more enthusiastic than "we're hopeful", but Christian goes further than that. He expects Nakir to make the frame at least next month. "I think trainers are inclined to overrate their horses, but I really don't think he's done anything wrong whatsoever," he said. "On his best form he has a great chance of finishing in the first three and I think he'll go very close. The better the ground is, the better he'll run.

"I think it's rather strange that Travado hasn't appeared by now, Martha's Son is not going to be there and Deep Sensation is a rather enigmatic character to say the least. And I'm confident of beating Sybillin and Uncle Ernie, so what's going to keep me out of the three?"

Christian already has three Festival victories to his name (Nakir and Oregon Trail in the Arkle Trophy and Henry Mann in the Golden Hurdle Final), but the Queen Mother Champion Chase would be a pinnacle. "It's a race I like, because I love fast, two-mile chases, and it's a race I'd dearly like to win," he said. "I think everyone is concerned to see Kinnersley have a top horse again." If not for Christian, then for the memory of those who have gone before at the historic Worcester yard, and especially for the memory of John Burke.

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