Racing: Swan returns to pursue justice: Ireland's champion rider seeks redress in tomorrow's Whitbread Gold Cup. Clive Hughes reports

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ANYONE would think the poor horse was cursed. Every time the Irish-trained Cahervillahow steps off the plane to run in Britain he is, it seems, doomed.

Even those to whom the name is not familiar will remember his distinctive pink colours with red hearts. They were last seen fruitlessly chasing home Esha Ness to finish second in the void Grand National. Two years ago he was due to run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, only to be accidentally withdrawn from the race at a forfeit stage.

Tomorrow the nine-year-old attempts to break the spell in the pounds 100,000 Whitbread Gold Cup, and, if he does, there could be no more appropriate arena than Sandown.

For the racecourse was the scene of Cahervillahow's greatest injustice. His owner, Mrs Miles Valentine, trainer Mouse Morris, and rider Charlie Swan, were stunned by his disqualification from first place in the 1991 Whitbread.

They were not alone. To the outrage of many racegoers and a large number of professionals, Cahervillahow was adjudged to have caused interference with runner-up Docklands Express in a tight, grinding finish. Docklands Express, who was awarded the race and kept it on an appeal heard two weeks later, is one of the favourites for tomorrow's running.

His presence in the field is a cause of satisfaction for Charlie Swan, who admits the 1991 Whitbread is by no means erased from his young mind, even though he has enough to think of right now, being tipped as a replacement for Peter Scudamore as Martin Pipe's No 1 rider.

Yesterday Swan went on trial at Cheltenham, winning on Her Honour on the second of three rides for Pipe. Having finished the Festival there as top jockey as well as winning the Irish Grand National recently, the 24-year-old is in determined mood as he bids for more top-level success.

He says: 'That Whitbread is something which always goes through my mind. It would be fantastic if we could fight out the finish with Docklands Express again and win.'

The remark may be more than wishful thinking. In the race two years ago, Cahervillahow was giving away 13lb in weight to Docklands Express; tomorrow he receives 18lb from the same horse, a turnaround of over two stone.

'I think if there was ever a chance of him winning the Whitbread this is going to be the year,' adds Swan. 'He is so much better off with Docklands Express than two years ago, he has to have a fantastic chance. He only has to come back half the horse he was two seasons ago.'

There lies the crunch. Cahervillahow missed the entire 1991/92 season with foot troubles and a sequence of niggling problems, and until the National showed little sign of his old ability.

But Swan and Morris believe the zest returned in the National, and void race or not, it can be taken as a sign of a return to form. 'It woke him up and he has been in great form since,' Swan said.

Morris adds: 'Often you find horses who have been off for a year take a long time to come back to themselves. And normally Cahervillahow's best races have come in the spring, it could just be that he is a spring horse.'

The County Tipperary trainer, son of former Olympic chief Lord Killanin, affectionately describes Cahervillahow as 'the most famous horse I've ever trained for all the wrong reasons'. Nonetheless he regards the 1991 Whitbread as 'dead and buried'.

'Now we are looking to the future,' he says. 'We just have to keep going and keep thinking he'll get there one of these days.'

Who knows. Tomorrow might just be the day when the jinx stays away.

(Photograph omitted)