RACING: Viking's valour decisive in three-way fight

GRAND NATIONAL: Maguire flexes his muscles for today's big race with a stirring victory in the Melling Chase
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The Independent Online
If a horse race can ever be manufactured by computer to produce the maximum quality, courage and excitement it will be modelled on yesterday's Melling Chase here.

Only the greybeards were able to offer an alternative as the most captivating two-mile chase seen on a British racecourse, a race that went ultimately to a horse as brave as anyone can remember, Viking Flagship.

Two fences out, as the front-running Southolt began to show the first sign of weakness, the laurels rested between Viking Flagship, Martha's Son and Deep Sensation. At the last there was the perfect symmetry of three horses taking off and landing in splendid unison and on the run- in there was a reliance on racing's most invaluable gift, courage.

Deep Sensation has long been considered the coward of every county in the country, but will now be receiving sackfuls of apologies. Under Norman Williamson he gave all his body would allow but even that was not enough. As he flashed past the post with Adrian Maguire, Williamson knew he had been in a contest that will not die easily in the mind. He prodded his fellow Irishman in the abdomen with his whip to recognise the quality of the contest.

However worthy was the case for Deep Sensation, nobody begrudged the success of Maguire, who missed the winning ride on Viking Flagship at the Cheltenham Festival following the sudden death of hs mother. "I always knew he would never stop running," Maguire said. "His jumping was out of this world, he was gaining lengths at each fence down the back. When we landed over the last the others were on top of me but he kept sticking his head out to win."

Maguire has been struggling with a knee injury all week, much the same as his great rival, Richard Dunwoody, who administered his own placebo when Banjo won the Mildmay Novices' Chase. Banjo is trained by Martin Pipe, but looked as if he had been prepared by Vivienne Westwood, scooting around Aintree's turns wearing flashy black-and-white blinkers to match his rider's silks.

There are expectations that this ex-French horse will grow stronger and vault more fluently as he becomes used to British conditions. "He is adapting well to a totally different type of fence than he is used to at Auteuil," Dunwoody said. "There they have hedges and bullfinches which you can take by the roots."

That the National fences produce stories of some romance was proved when Sheer Jest won the Foxhunters' Chase for the biggest of jockeys and one of the smaller trainers. After watching 6ft 4in Alan Hill win on his gelding, Bill Warner, a Northamptonshire farmer, was in self-deprecatory mood. "We are a small, humble outfit," he said. "I'm indebted to my wife, Christine. She's at home looking after the lambing.''

n The Australian Jockey Club has announced that it is inquiring into an alleged ring of 10 jockeys said to have fixed races at major meetings in Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane.

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