Celtic Swing may miss Derby

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Revisions all round have come after Celtic Swing's defeat by Pennekamp in Saturday's 2,000 Guineas. The "wonder horse" has been stripped of both his tag and omnipotence, and he may now not even run in the Derby.

Connections were so dismayed by the effect of firm ground on their horse that they are not prepared to risk him on similar terrain. "I don't think Epsom is his track because he needs a galloping course," Peter Savill, Celtic Swing's owner, said yesterday. "We wouldn't want to run in the Derby on firm ground.

"There's only one Derby, but we need it on the soft side of good rather than the fast side. We don't want to dodge Pennekamp, we want to take him on again, but we would like the right conditions for the horse. The next time we meet him we'd like the conditions to be in our favour."

The options open to Savill if he sidesteps Epsom are to pay a supplementary fee to enter the horse in the previous weekend's Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) or go for the Irish Derby on 2 July. Or both.

The bookmakers, Coral, reacted by taking Celtic Swing out of their Derby betting and cutting Pennekamp's price to 11-10 favourite (Ladbrokes make the French horse an even-money shot). The men behind the Guineas winner have looked no further ahead than the Blue Riband for their horse, but have not ruled out an assault on the St Leger at Doncaster in September. That keeps alive the hope, until Saturday entrusted to Celtic Swing, of the Triple Crown being won this year for the first time in a quarter of a century.

The simple truth after Saturday is that Celtic Swing is not a speed horse in the mould of Dancing Brave, the 1986 2,000 Guineas winner, but rather a galloper like the 1987 Derby winner, Reference Point. He needs to break the spirit of rivals with constant pressure.

With this in mind, the colt was not used to best advantage. After a brief skirmish with Chilly Billy coming out of the stalls, he was steadied just off the lead. Celtic Swing did not have the chance of a breather, however, as he was placed not behind horses, but on the wide outside staring down the length of the course. In effect, he was racing for six of the eight furlongs. Pennekamp, on the other hand, was cleverly tucked in behind the main body to conserve his energy.

For a horse who feeds on momentum, Celtic Swing's final burst began, rather strangely, not long before the field dropped into the unbalancing dip a furlong and a half out. As the colt scrambled around, his head tilted upwards like a cat peering at the canary cage. By the time Celtic Swing had regained his equilibrium, Pennekamp had gone.

The problem of an undulating course and probably that of fast ground will remain if Lady Herries's colt travels to Epsom. In the Derby, Celtic Swing's fate could well be known fully a half-mile out after covering the worst of the contours and the dreaded Tattenham Corner. Connections already understand that their animal must kick from the entrance to the straight if his strongest weapon is to be utiilised. "In the Derby he would have to go for home," Savill said. "And he must learn that means getting down to it and it won't come easy."

All hope that Celtic Swing may yet prove himself a colt of great substance have not yet swirled away, however. Savill outlined that the horse did not get the best of runs, lost his action momentarily and had the ground against him on Saturday. Yet he was still beaten just a head. And he was also closing at the finish. "Kevin [Darley, the jockey] thought he would have caught him in a little bit further," Savill reported.

What may now change is the way the horse is ridden. Animals that run from the front have a tendency to burn out earlier and if the extravagant programme that has been drawn up for Celtic Swing is to be followed, there is a belief that he must have easier races.

"We've got to look at teaching him to switch off and it's possible to do it because he's an easy horse to deal with," Savill said. "We've got five weeks to do that."

Whatever his challenge, Celtic Swing will always have the calmest of temperaments to see him through. On Saturday his appearance was magnificent, his backside clipped with a geometric perfection that would have accommodated a game of chequers. In the scorching sun, the only speck of moisture on his body was the creamy foam of sweat between his hind legs.

Following the public school ethos, it is considered he will be better for a beating. "He's come second for the first time in his life and I'm sure he knows it," Savill said adopting the anthropomorphism which continually follows Celtic Swing. "He's never had a horse finish in front of him either on the gallops or in a race. Maybe this will teach him it is not as easy as he thinks."

Lady Herries's straw of consolation was that her charge had been to school. "The horse has learned an awful lot," she said. "When the penny dropped he suddenly realised he had to race. But by then it was too late."

The dream may now have dimmed, but the emotions have yet to get near despondency. "I'd rather win a Derby than a Guineas and whatever happens it's going to be good for racing," Savill said. "Hopefully this will be an Alydar and Affirmed battle between us and Pennekamp during the season."

Savill may not care to contemplate that once Affirmed got the better of his great rival in the first of America's Triple Crown series he never let the advantage slip.

Racing, pages 26 and 27