Viking embarks on half-million mission

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The Independent Online
When your owner's business is animal meats it seems wise for a racehorse not to put ideas into his head by running slowly. For whatever reason, Viking Flagship has proved as difficult a foe to repel as his name might suggest throughout a dramatic career. If he runs well in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on Saturday the testament to his enduring brilliance will be a breaching of the pounds 500,000 earnings barrier.

Viking Flagship is the property of Graham Roach, who was a trainer of some distinction himself in the 1980s until he found it was impossible to achieve the amoebic qualities needed to prepare horses and run a company at the same time.

"Cornwall [where he trained] is too far down geographically and there were so many business commitments," Roach said. "I wasn't able to split myself in half and make it work, and it was the business that always had to come first with me.''

Roach's attention is now concentrated on Roach Foods, a firm that processes bacon and ham for supermarkets and employs 800. But there are still vestiges of the past at Prideaux, the Roach home just outside St Austell, which itself reminds of the former trainer's first bold warrior, Prideaux Boy.

The foals and store horses that the owner purchases receive their grounding at Prideaux and he estimates they are 85 per cent of the finished article before being boxed to either Oliver Sherwood or David Nicholson, Viking Flagship's trainer.

Cornwall, formerly a county of tin mines and pasties in the guide books, also has the air and turf to nurture good racehorses. North west of Roach's production line (equine division) and facing the Celtic Sea is Bude and Walter Dennis's yard which produced the point-to-pointer Coome Hill to win the Hennessy at Newbury on Saturday.

Now the baton passes to Viking Flagship, who has won 21 of his 43 starts, many of the exhilarating ones in the hands of Saturday's jockey, Adrian Maguire. At Sandown he will confront old enemies such as Sound Man and Klairon Davis, who will run if the ground is deemed soft enough after an inspection today, plus possibly the emerging talent of Ask Tom.

Viking Flagship has proved vulnerable on his seasonal debut in seasons past, and if his overall hegemony is to be threatended Roach believes it will be by a tyro. "He looks very well and everyone seems to be very happy with him, but I never build up my hopes too much for the first race," the owner said. "He's never had an easy race, but he's not overraced either and everything he's showing at the moment suggests he still likes it. This horse still competes, but one day a young man will come along and take his crown.''

Maguire once opined that Viking Flagship might benefit from a hike up from two miles, but the folio containing that idea has been reduced to a ball and popped into the wastepaper basket. "It was about two years ago that Adrian thought he might be stepped up to three miles, but if the horse hasn't lost any of his speed he is still a force to be reckoned with at two," Roach said.

The gelding will consequently go for Wetherby's Castleford Chase after Sandown, and his name was not among the 16 entries for the King George VI Chase announced yesterday. Among the more hopeful nominees were the Charlie Brooks pairing of Double Symphony and Suny Bay, while Henrietta Knight has the relatively inexperienced Oatis Regrets in mind for Kempton and Boxing Day.

The obvious market leaders appear to be Mr Mulligan, who reappears in the Rehearsal Chase at Chepstow on Saturday, Rough Quest, the Grand National hero, and last year's winner, One Man. Several students consider the last- named is being prepared with just one race - the Cheltenham Gold Cup - in mind this season, but they are not the same folk who have the ear of the grey's trainer, Gordon Richards. "I want him to be at his best when he goes to win the King George," Richards said yesterday. "I want to win that race and all I'm worried about is getting him there. What beats him there is a good horse.''

KING GEORGE VI CHASE (Kempton, 26 December). Entries: Algan (trained by F Doumen, Fr), Barton Bank (D Nicholson), Challenger Du Luc (M Pipe), Couldnt Be Better (C Brooks), Crystal Spirit (I Balding), Kadi (D Nicholson), Mr Mulligan (N Chance), Nahthen Lad (Mrs J Pitman), Oatis Regrets (Miss H Knight), One Man (G Richards), Rough Quest (T Casey), Sound Man (E O'Grady (Irl), Strong Promise (G Hubbard), Suny Bay (C Brooks), Trying Again (D Gandolfo), Double Symphony (C Brooks).