Racing: Tregoning gears Mubtaker for Arc glory

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The understudy who became a star steps on to the stage again on Saturday for the first time since his role-changing performance.

The understudy who became a star steps on to the stage again on Saturday for the first time since his role-changing performance. Mubtaker, surprise runner-up in the Arc last year and the highest-rated horse from that campaign still in training, starts the road back to Longchamp by going for a hat-trick in his favourite race, the Geoffrey Freer Stakes at Newbury. "He's in top order," said the chestnut's trainer, Marcus Tregoning, yesterday, "and we're very much looking forward to seeing him in action again."

Amen to that. Mubtaker is as admirable and reliable horse as anyone could wish to have gracing the scene, winner of eight of his 17 races over five seasons and never out of the first three. He is also a rare enough breed, a horse who improved to show his best in the top flight at the age of six (only Swain, Ardross and Sagaro have been judged better by the handicappers in recent decades) and one for whom the best may still be to come at the age of seven.

Mubtaker was once praised by Tregoning as much for his role as helpmeet to stablemate Nayef as for his own racecourse performances, but all that changed last October when the horse ran Dalakhani to three-quarters of a length in Paris, with no less then and subsequent celebrities as High Chaparral and Doyen as his immediate followers, five lengths and more behind.

It was the first chance Sheikh Hamdan's colourbearer had been give to show what he could do in Group One company, but not through want of trying. Injuries - nothing serious, but enough to make his career rather stop-start - intervened at crucial times, including before the last two runnings of the Dubai Sheema Classic. The most recent was a bout of tendonitis picked up in Pisa, where he spent the latter half of last winter. "He'd hated training on sand in Dubai the year before," said Tregoning, "so this year he went to Italy and it was all going very well when he showed signs of soreness. But we knew it was nothing that time wouldn't put right."

Only one seven-year-old has ever won an Arc - dual hero Motrico in his second year, 1932 - and none have been placed. By that age, top-class horses have either been retired to stud, or indicated that they want to be, but there is, apparently, nothing over-macho about Mubtaker yet. "There could be difficulties in keeping a seven-year-old entire in training, but in his case not," said Tregoning. "He is still full of enthusiasm for his present job, not in the least colty. At home he's very obviously fresh and well and happy. Perhaps it's because he's been relatively lightly campaigned over the years."

Even if Mubtaker had never been able to fulfil his considerable potential in public, his behind-the-scenes duties would have ensured he owed nothing to anyone. Nayef, a notoriously lazy individual, was probably lucky to have such a galloping companion to egg him on. "He did an awful lot towards getting Nayef ready," said Tregoning, "really carried him along. They spent a lot of time together and were good mates." Ironically, Mubtaker's one moment of almost-glory in the Arc earned a higher rating than did any of Nayef's four Group One victories.

Mubtaker starts his campaign over an extended 13 furlongs in preference to the mile and a quarter of next week's York International. "I think he's probably equally effective from 10 furlongs to two miles," said Lambourn-based Tregoning. "He stays, but he has plenty of speed. He has a powerful cruising speed, which means he can travel well whatever the distance. He's ready to run." If all goes to plan, 33-1 is not likely to be on offer this time round in the Bois de Boulogne.

One of last year's best juveniles, dual Group Two winner Lucky Story, makes his long-awaited return to action tomorrow at Salisbury in the Sovereign Stakes. The Mark Johnston-trained colt has not been seen since taking the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster 11 months ago, having suffered an injury during his 2,000 Guineas build-up.

Ed Vaughan, who took over the licence at Clarehaven Stables in Newmarket last week on the death of Alec Stewart, trained a poignant first winner yesterday when Raysoot, in the Mtoto colours, won the mile handicap at Bath. "I'm delighted and relieved to have opened my account," he said, "but my thoughts are with the guv'nor, who is sadly missed."

The victory was the 109th in the race for the jockey's title for Kieren Fallon, closing the gap on Frankie Dettori (who did not ride yesterday) to two.