Celtic Swing ready to cue the fanfare

RACING: Kevin Darley's mount must overcome a high-grade 2,000 Guineas field but his class can be expected to confirm supremacy
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The Independent Online
It is apposite that Celtic Swing should arrive at Newmarket's Rowley Mile course this afternoon when he has nowhere to hide. The near black colt's most demanding moment in the 2,000 Guineas will be played out in the starkest of settings, a windscoured plain on which the natural landmark they call the Bushes, two furlongs from home, holds out uniquely against the elements.

The dichotomy is clear. Celtic Swing is either the eulogised, heaven- sent machine that has kept foresters in business over the last six months or he is an impostor, another name to throw on the rubble of exaggerated reputations. This afternoon will end in a fanfare or a raspberry and there can be nothing in between.

It is this way because Celtic Swing is ranged against potentially the best Guineas field since El Gran Senor came home ahead of such as Chief Singer, Lear Fan and Rainbow Quest 11 years ago. If Lady Herries's unbeaten colt can beat similarly qualified opponents in Diffident, Painter's Row and Pennekamp, much of the hyperbole will have been justified.

So what of these opponents? Of the 10, Pennekamp is the most fancied. He is trained by Andr Fabre, who has attracted as many compelling animals into his care as John Aspinall. Fabre has always rated Pennekamp, but he has always rated him as a 12-furlong horse.

This belief seems to have been justified on the Chantilly gallops this spring, when, according to connections, Pennekamp has been "helped along" over six furlongs by Diffident. This diplomat-speak indicated the Dewhurst Stakes winner was given a pasting over the sprint distance.

Such homework proved to be no disgrace. Pennekamp went on to win his preparatory race, the Prix Djebel, and Diffident showed the sort of instant pace in the Free Handicap to suggest he had put his bottom on an oven ring. The Free Handicap, though, is what it says, a handicap, and does not have a reputation for regularly delivering us the Guineas winner.

On one line of form, however, that victory makes Diffident superior to Painter's Row, a horse who looks like a solid undercard fighter, his durability outweighing his skills.

For many, the each-way bet of the race will be Bahri, who has been closer to Celtic Swing than any other horse apart from the one in the adjoining box at Angmering Park. After these colts were separated by little more than a length in Newbury's Greenham Stakes, Willie Carson, Bahri's rider, suggested he could have won in different circumstances.

"I think Willie was dreaming a little bit that day as Celtic Swing won with a little bit in hand," John Dunlop, the colt's trainer, said this week. "But it was only a length and a quarter that he beat us, so who knows?" Dunlop, it has to be said, was more impressed by the work of his other runner, Nwaamis, this week.

And so to the big horse himself. Celtic Swing's stabling area has been swept by security cameras this spring, probably in an effort to keep out dogs as much as dopers. Angmering Park was the setting for a positive drug test some time back, when proscribed substances that are found in chocolate were detected in a horse. The source was eventually traced to Kandy, one of the estate's spaniels, who had been at the drops and then made the horses' hay fragrant.

Celtic Swing's record smelt better when he won the Greenham and drew a bouquet from his rider, Kevin Darley. "The horse is a natural athlete and he's retained his pace," Darley said. "This is what every jockey dreams of and it's what we're all in the game for.

"I count myself very fortunate to be involved with a horse like this. I'll never get a better chance to win a Classic than with this horse."

The main worry appears to be the ground, and as early as Monday this week Lady Herries and Darley were swapping meteorological information on the steps of Windsor's weighing room. Celtic Swing's front-end posture is of a giraffe bending down for a drink, but it must be said this did not deter him from winning on fast going at Ascot last year.

One of the colt's great attributes is his temperament. He gets as volatile as a hippy. Darley has never wrung much out of his frame on the gallops, but he has noticed a change in it. The jockey considers the colt has tightened up since Newbury, his hide now trampoline-taught over the valuable bones.

The questions that remain centre on Celtic Swing's fighting spirit and his form this year. Darley is adamant his conveyance will respond whenever a challenger presents himself. The jockey conducted a dress-rehearsal in the Racing Post Trophy last season, when his charge sprang forward every time he delivered a stinging blow of the whip.

In terms of performance, it may be that Celtic Swing's challengers have already had their chance this year. Last season, the colt was stepped up twice in class and he met the challenge by increasing his winning margin on each occasion; from four lengths to eight lengths and then up to 12 lengths.

The evidence suggests that none will get as close to him this afternoon as Bahri did just last month. For Celtic Swing the best is yet to come.