Viking defends his domain without a fight

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The Independent Online
A year ago he prevailed after a vicious fight to the line, but yesterday Viking Flagship won his second Queen Mother Champion Chase after little more than a stroll around Prestbury Park in the sunshine. It was a performance to admire, and it was not until they led him into the winner's enclosure that you remembered what was missing.

Charlie Swan, riding Viking Flagship for the first time, could hardly have done so more efficiently, but without the determined figure of Adrian Maguire on his back, he did not seem like the same horse. "He's done the work with the horse over the last two years," David Nicholson, the winner's trainer, said, "and on his day of glory he couldn't ride him." Maguire is in Ireland following the death of his mother, and will also miss the Festival's final day.

The race was surprisingly easy for Viking Flagship (though some will say that Martha's Son, who was not entered, would have run him close). Travado, second last year, made several mistakes and was beaten a mile out, while Deep Sensation, winner of the race two years ago, was within striking distance as they turned for home but showed his normal reluctance to make a serious challenge. Viking Flagship was five lengths to the good and pulling up at the post.

"He's really game," Swan said. "Half-way down the back I wasn't sure he'd keep going, but when he got to the top of the hill, he came off it very strongly." Still only eight, Viking Flagship should be back next year with every chance as will, we must hope, Maguire and Martha's Son.

Maguire missed the day's first winner, too, when Nicholson's Putty Road got up to beat Berude Not To in the final stride of the Sun Alliance Novices' Hurdle. Two lengths back was Treble Bob, the subject of a bet of £100,000 to win £200,000. The punter concerned did not even have the pleasure of beating the book - Dermot Weld's runner was returned at 9-4.

The Irish did better in the Coral Cup, with Chance Coffey, from Pat O'Donnell's six-horse stable, beating Derrymoyle and Time For A Run. The one they were aching for, though, let them down.

Harcon, 6-4 favourite for the Sun Alliance Chase, sailed past Banjo, supposedly his one serious rival, half a mile from the finish. Just as swiftly, though, he was overtaken by Brief Gale, and his lack of a finishing kick was soon apparent. Josh Gifford's mare, ridden with patience by Philip Hide, finished nine lengths clear, and the extra furlong of next year's Gold Cup - a race for which she is 16-1 with Coral - would only have increased her superiority. With normal progress, Gifford will have a potent challenger 12 months' today.

The most surprising aspect of Brief Gale's win was that Kadi, narrowly beaten by her last month, was allowed to start at 11-2 for the Mildmay of Flete Chase an hour later. Norman Williamson knew what Kadi could do, and forced him past Dublin Flyer 100 yards out to record his third winner of the meeting (he also deputised for Maguire on Putty Road).

Having started the week without a success at the Festival, Williamson is now odds-on to finish it as the top jockey.