Racing: Viking Flagship is the sturdiest vessel

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The Independent Online
It is four weeks since punters last had the chance to spend Saturday afternoon watching British jumps racing, so the first task today must be to resist the urge to rush out and back one horse after another without so much as checking that they have the desired number of legs. It may prove a difficult resolution to keep, since the Victor Chandler Chase has been added to an already excellent programme from Kempton and Haydock, and several of today's contests will surely prove irresistible.

This was not the sentiment of Milton Bradley, however, when he discovered yesterday that Martin Pipe had declared Pridwell for both the Champion Hurdle Trial - his first preference - at Haydock and the Lanzarote Handicap Hurdle at Kempton. This left Bradley's Tejano Gold 10lb adrift of the handicap proper when he would otherwise have been running off his true mark, but did no harm at all to the chance of Make A Stand, Pipe's principal hope for the race. Tejano Gold was immediately scratched while Make A Stand shortened to 6-4, leaving Pipe with 10 out of 10 for cunning plans, but distinctly fewer points for sportsmanship.

It may be, though, that a third successive victory will still prove beyond Make A Stand, since his rivals are unlikely to allow this front-runner the generous head start which set up his victory in the William Hill Handicap Hurdle at Sandown in December. Instead, it is worth recalling that Master Beveled (next best 2.40) would have run Make A Stand very close that day but for a desperate mistake at the last flight. He is five pounds better off today and should make it count.

The weights are all against Viking Flagship (3.10) as he attempts to give a stone and more to seven rivals in the Victor Chandler Chase, but even so, the former champion two-miler may be the one to back. Few of his opponents are at the peak of their form, while one of those who is, stable-mate Storm Alert, seems only to win at Ascot and Sandown. It was at the former track that Storm Alert beat Ask Tom four weeks ago, which was a little less than might have been expected of Tom Tate's chaser, and a reverse which does not entitle him to start favourite today. Viking Flagship, by contrast, was visibly short of fitness when narrowly beaten by Sound Man at Sandown last month, and may now be approaching his best.

Kempton also provides the bet of the day, as ROSENCRANTZ (nap 2.10) attempts to further improve Venetia Williams's outstanding strike-rate. "People keep saying I've had a good start to the season, and I say, hang on, we're in January now," she said recently. "Most of it's gone." Her winning percentage is still 40 per cent, however, and long may it continue.

At Haydock, the Champion Hurdle Trial is, for once, worthy of the name, with three prominent names in the ante-post market, Dato Star (10-1), Bimsey (20-1) and Mistinguett (33-1) among the field, not to mention form lines to the likes of Space Trucker and Large Action. It is supporters of the latter who should be most satisfied by the result, since Bimsey (1.15), runner-up to Large Action at Cheltenham last time, looks the probable winner.

Nahthen Lad, winner of the Sun Alliance Chase at last year's Festival, will jump a fence in public for the first time since in the Peter Marsh Chase, but his run in a Bangor hurdle before Christmas was most disappointing and Unguided Missile (1.45) looks a safer bet.

There will be more Champion Hurdle clues in Ireland tomorrow in the Irish equivalent at Leopardstown, even though Collier Bay, winning of both races last year, is still not forward enough to make his seasonal reappearance. David Nicholson's team of Zabadi and Escartefigue, though, give Britain every chance of a fourth win in eight years, with Theatreworld and Urubande most likely to keep the prize at home. Nicholson also runs Mulligan in the Arkle Cup, but few among the crowd will expect anything but victory for Danoli as a Gold Cup challenge in his novice season grows ever more likely.