RACING: Flagship threatened with overload in two-mile test

The much-trumpeted bravery of Viking Flagship will get its most searing test in the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot on Saturday. Britain's leading two-mile chaser, the winner of five of his last six starts, has been set the sort of task devised by Hercules' workmaster in giving wheelbarrow-loads of weight to the progressive Current Express and Martha's Son.

David Nicholson's gelding, the winner of last year's running of this race when it was re-routed to Warwick, has 18lb more to carry this time around, mainly because of his win in last year's Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Festival. This elevation makes him vulnerable to the green-shoot chasers.

Current Express is difficult to evaluate. There are considerably more promising bulletins than runs in the gelding's record book (he has appeared just four times since the 1991-92 season), but his trainer, Nick Henderson, reports the gelding on the vergeof fulfilling his promise.

"Current Express is in good form," the Lambourn trainer said yesterday. "He schooled this morning and jumped well. He has had his problems, but, hopefully, they are behind him now.

"It was a good performance at Cheltenham and the second [Around The Horn] franked the form on Saturday. We have always thought the world of this horse and, hopefully, he is getting somewhere near that now."

Martha's Son, who is unbeaten in seven races over fences, is trained by the arch pessimist Tim Forster. If it rains heavily between now and the weekend, Forster will pull out his runner; if it does not he will expect his garden to wither. "He will run atAscot provided the ground is not soft," the trainer said yesterday. "The horse is fine and has done everything that has been asked of him so far over fences.

"This is a different class of race and I have no idea whether he will be good enough, but we will find out whether he is better than he has shown so far."

Viking Flagship himself showed the best form of his life on the gallops at Jackdaws Castle last week, while there have been similarly encouraging reports about Oliver Sherwood's Coulton.

This gelding had the "I told you so's" emerging from the cupboard after a dire error at Cheltenham last time out, but has since been on another course with the jumping expert who appears to provide his charges with a mental prop, Yogi Breisner.

Jimmy Fitzgerald, who has declared both Uncle Ernie and Sybillin in an effort to reclaim the race he won in 1990 with Meikleour, is one of several trainers shooting for the £20,000 bonus on offer for winning the feature race and the opening Victor Chandler Novices' Hurdle. Henderson and Nicholson also have entries in an effort to gather a Saturday prize that will not come from a dice drum.

nThe Ascot executive has announced that annual membership, for which there is no longer a waiting list, is available at £120 or £42 for 16 to 25-year-olds.

VICTOR CHANDLER HANDICAP CHASE (Ascot, Saturday): Ladbrokes: 2-1 Viking Flagship, 5-2 Martha's Son, 5-1 Coulton, 6-1 Current Express, 10-1 Deep Sensation, 14-1 Egypt Mill Prince & Storm Alert, 16-1 Uncle Ernie, 20-1 Sybillin; Victor Chandler: 7-4 Viking Flagship, 3-1 Martha's Son, 6-1 Coulton, 7-1 Current Express, 8-1 Deep Sensation, 9-1 Storm Alert, 10-1 Egypt Mill Prince, 16-1 Uncle Ernie, 25-1 Sybillin.