Racing: Viking closes in on Orchid's riches

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The toughest jumper in training is on the verge of becoming the biggest earner too. Viking Flagship is within range of the National Hunt prize-money record held by Desert Orchid.

When other horses are afflicted by a virus they either stay warm in their stables or mooch slowly round the racetrack looking in need of sympathy. Viking Flagship just races on. Last Saturday, despite showing signs of the illness that is affecting some of David Nicholson's horses, he struggled round Wetherby racecourse looking likely to finish third, of three runners, in the Castleford Chase. Then it came down to a battle on the run-in. There was only one possible outcome.

Victory at Wetherby added another pounds 20,000 to Viking Flagship's prize- money haul and took his career earnings to pounds 595,050 and within sight of Desert Orchid's record for a National Hunt horse of pounds 654,066. It is a barrier he could break this season.

Viking Flagship's courage and consistency certainly merit a permanent place in the record books. He is 11 years old tomorrow and has hardly ever run a bad race.

"His record speaks for itself," Nicholson said yesterday. "He has run 54 times and has won 24 times." Moreover those wins include two in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and two more at the highest level at Aintree. Since he was sent chasing in February 1993 he has only once been out of the first four in 35 completed races and even then he finished fifth and was trying to give away 19lb to the winner, an up-and-coming Martha's Son.

Nicholson has already mapped out the remainder of Viking Flagship's campaign with the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury in February pencilled in for his next engagement. He will then tackle the Emblem Chase at Kempton before attempting to secure the Champion Chase for a third time and will end his campaign in Aintree's Melling Chase.

Victory in the pounds 100,000 Queen Mother Chase alone would make Viking Flagship jumping's biggest moneyspinner. "Let's hope he can cap the record," Nicholson said. "He's gutsy and tough and pulls out every day and does his work. He enjoys life and the day he stops enjoying life he will probably have his feet in the air.

"On Saturday I put my glasses down at the second last [when Viking Flagship looked beaten] but full credit to horse and jockey that they dug in for victory."

Viking Flagship began his career in Ireland - where he ran 17 times - before joining Martin Pipe. He was transferred to Nicholson after being bought by his current owner, Graham Roach.

"He won four times for Martin and Graham Roach bought him and sent him to me," Nicholson said. "I thought: `How can I follow that'. He has a great record and there should be a book."