The huge crowd's reaction to a race that yielded a finale of heart-stopping excitement was muted by disappointment at the realisation that the dark brown three-year-old is not, after all, a horse to rank with Nijinsky and Brigadier Gerard. More than 20 years after the heyday of those superstars, Flat racing yearns for an individual of comparably high profile, and thoughts of only the second Triple Crown winner since the Second World War had been making pulses race. Now we know for sure that Celtic Swing will not be the one to answer the call.
The favourite, upset by a minor kerfuffle involving Chilly Billy in the next stall, was slowly out of the gate and reluctant to find the front. As his jockey, Kevin Darley, watched Silca Blanka, Zeb and Pipe Major set the early pace, it was clear that there was a lot of work to be done if he was to accomplish the vital task of running the finish out of the other fancied runners.
Among these, Sheikh Mohammed's Pennekamp - the winner of last season's Dewhurst Stakes and one of four unbeaten colts in the field - presented the clearest threat. Thierry Jarnet, three times the French champion jockey, coolly held him at the rear of the 11-horse field, just in front of the hapless Chilly Billy, watching and waiting as Darley worked Celtic Swing into contention with the leading trio.
With half the race run, Richard Hughes still held the lead on Silca Blanka, with Zeb and Pipe Major alongside. And now Darley made his move, an enormous cheer erupting from the packed grandstands as the field came to the Dip, two furlongs from home, with the favourite in front.
Travelling downhill, Celtic Swing seemed momentarily to have the race in the bag. But Jarnet had been doing his calculations, backing a belief that if he kept Pennekamp away from head-to-head combat in the early stages, he could preserve enough speed for a meaningful final sprint.
Stealthily, he launched his horse around the outside of the arrowhead formation led by Celtic Swing. And as the Dip bottomed out and the horses began to race uphill in the final furlong, he made his strike. With half a furlong to go, Jarnet drove Pennekamp to the front. Celtic Swing seemed to reel under the assault, and in only a couple of strides was almost a length in arrears. Darley fought back, coaxing his horse into an heroic recovery, but there was still a head in it as they crossed the line with Celtic Swing's unbeaten record in ruins.
Another 20 yards, and he might have preserved it. That, however, is the most damning verdict of all, suggesting that the horse failed to deliver the full weight of his power when it really counted.
Although his last-gasp challenge availed him nothing on the day, it served to set up a potentially enthralling return match in the Derby five weeks hence. Darley remarked afterwards: "I've said all along that he's an out- and-out Derby horse. He won't be afraid to take Pennekamp on again."
Celtic Swing's owner had a slightly less optimistic view: "We can't be confident of reversing the placings," the publisher Peter Savill said. "But we've got to try and get him to learn that when he goes for home he's got to really get down to it and not think the job is easy."
In Pennekamp's corner, Sheikh Mohammed was relishing the prospect of a rematch. "Our aim is the Derby," he said. His trainer, the Chantilly- based Andr Fabre, who won the 2,000 Guineas with Zafonic two years ago, was full of praise: "Pennekamp is a great horse. He's very easy to train, very laid back, always in good health. I never have any trouble with him. Zafonic was a speed bomb, but this one is a very quiet, settled horse. I had no plans. I relied on the horse. If you start to make plans, you probably lose the battle."
Perhaps too many people had been making too many plans for Celtic Swing. Still, if he was hypothetically good enough to beat Pennekamp over a mile and 20 yards at Newmarket yesterday, what might he do over a mile and a half at Epsom? The wonder-horse angle is a dead duck, but the story still has legs.
Sue Montgomery, page 7
1. PENNEKAMP T Jarnet 9-2
2. Celtic Swing K Darley 4-5 fav
3. Bahri W Carson 14-1
Distances: hd, 2. 11 ran.Reuse content