Racing: Mutare promises wind of change for Buckley: Richard Edmondson on the Cheltenham ambitions for a Gold Cup aspirant who is now making the right noises

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The Independent Online
WHEN Nick Henderson contemplates winning the Gold Cup next year with Mutare he tries to blank one race out of his mind: the Sun Alliance Chase at last season's Cheltenham Festival.

That was the race in which Mutare, who is due to make his seasonal reappearance at Cheltenham tomorrow, fell as he was about to be overpowered by Miinnehoma and Bradbury Star. Both those conquerors have since done little to suggest this was an event of supreme import.

'If you look back at that race, you might have said that Miinnehoma, Bradbury Star and Mutare might have been in with a bit of chance for the Gold Cup,' Henderson says. 'The other two, sadly, don't look it at the moment, so you then ask 'why Mutare'?'

Henderson, though, is quick to answer his own question, citing his gelding's breathing problems of last season as a demeaning factor. 'We were wrong at Cheltenham,' the trainer says. 'He was making noises and then he fell over. I hope what we've done to his wind over the summer will have improved him.'

A symptom of a severe respiratory problem in a horse is whistling, and if Henderson is asked if this afflicts Mutare, he responds with the indignation of a mother informed that her baby has a crooked smile.

'There's an awful lot of things horses do, but the one thing he doesn't is whistle,' he says. 'If I went into the minor details, we would be here until midnight talking about niggly things that are irrelevant to man or beast.'

What is pertinent to Henderson is to reward Michael Buckley, Mutare's owner, with prizes to match his input to the sport. Buckley is the man who has sparks spitting from the palms of Irish horse-dealers when he travels to the Republic.

Two years ago, the owner's good fortune persuaded Richard Pitman to refer to him as 'Lucky Buckley' on the BBC. Shortly afterwards, The Proclamation, a gelding rich in both purchase price and promise, was put down after a fall at Ascot, and Buckley's good times have been thin ever since. Indeed, his collisions with the fates mean he now feels unable to discuss the prospects of his string.

'He's put a lot into the game so he deserves something out of it,' Henderson says. 'We found some nice horses, but things do go wrong.'

If things go right for Mutare, he will step up from tomorrow's venture in an Arlington Premier Series Chase Qualifier to the final at Newbury in February, a race won last year by his incapacitated stablemate Remittance Man. 'I've been cracking on with him,' Henderson says. 'But he'll still improve a ton for the race and I hope we'll get away with it.'

And as the Gold Cup, The Fellow apart, looks an open contest, Mutare, a 33-1 ante-post chance, may yet end up racing for chasing's blue riband. 'He's got to be right, he's got to start on the right leg and he's got to continue on it,' Henderson says. 'He's potentially a very good horse, but he's got a very long way to go and I'm as hopeful as everyone else.'

While Henderson hopes of a first ever Gold Cup winner for his Lambourn stable, he dreams of a Festival to come and tries to obliterate a Festival just gone.