Bin Nashwan for Brittain

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The Independent Online
It is nothing short of heresy, but an inspection of the runners in today's Free Handicap at Newmarket makes you ponder whether it might not be better all round if Celtic Swing does not quite live up to expectations.

The reasoning goes like this. The Free Handicap is traditionally a weak event, barely worthy of the description "Classic trial", but today's renewal, which includes Diffident, Harayir and Bin Nashwan, is probably the finest for years. If even the Free Handicap is a good race, it follows that this year's three-year-olds are way in advance of those of recent seasons - don't forget that Nwaamis, Chilly Billy and Painter's Row go in the Craven Stakes tomorrow. Would it not then be a shame if they were condemned to spend the year as nothing more than also-rans?

It may not be a sentiment which will appeal to the people who back horses with five-figure sums, or who syndicate them with another three zeros attached. Among today's field, though, Diffident might be a worthy Guineas favourite in another year, but is out at 20-1 with Hills, not least because Andr Fabre, his trainer, seems to feel he has a better contender in Pennekamp, the Dewhurst winner.

Perhaps significantly, Fabre has decided not to pit Diffident against Celtic Swing in Saturday's Greenham Stakes, but his alternative opponents are hardly deadbeats. Harayir, joint top weight today, was third when favourite for the Cheveley Park Stakes (Myself, yesterday's Nell Gwyn winner, was fifth), while Bin Nashwan was beaten only one and a half lengths when third to Pennekamp in the Prix de la Salamandre.

That form gives Fabre a shrewd idea of Diffident's chance in receipt of 2lb from Bin Nashwan, but it is worth remembering that Clive Brittain, the latter's trainer, had a wretched season last year. With Brittain's string now finding its true form, Bin Nashwan (3.40) is a fair bet to return the winner.

Garden Of Heaven, a runner in the Earl of Sefton Stakes, was another of Brittain's rare winners last year, but even with improvement will struggle to beat Airport (3.05), while the Wood Ditton, which last year included yesterday's Abernant winner, Lake Coniston, among its also-rans, offers its standard collection of highly rated debutants.