Celtic Swing's official rating sets juvenile turf record

Watching professional handicappers discuss juvenile ratings can have a slightly surreal quality. The numbers against each name are little more than educated guesswork, yet they are expected to quantify the merits of two-year-olds who will probabl y nevermeet on a track, and allow comparison with others long since retired. So it seems appropriate to report that the official answer to the question "how good is Celtic Swing?" is: a large bag of potatoes.

That - or 6lb, in prosaic handicapper-speak - is how far the Racing Post Trophy winner and ante-post Derby favourite is rated ahead of his generation in the International Classification, published yesterday.

When Kevin Darley pointed Celtic Swing down the long Doncaster straight in October, his instructions were to ride out all the way to the line to guarantee his mount's status as the champion two-year-old. He did just that, and more. So impressive was the resulting 12-length rout, in fact, that the official rating of 130 awarded to the Lady Herries-trained colt is the highest achieved by a juvenile on turf in the 17-year history of the Classification (Arazi achieved the same mark, but on US dirt).

This news is not, of itself, likely to spark impromptu parties in the country's betting shops - it will assume much greater significance when Celtic Swing's owner sets his stud fee - but the ratings do at least give punters a good reason to look forward to the spring. Last year's juveniles, it seems, were the best for several seasons, and 1995 may see a return to Classics which are worthy of the name.

Pennekamp, Andre Fabre's impressive Dewhurst Stakes winner, is assessed to be Celtic Swing's closest rival, on 124. Sri Pekan (122) and Green Perfume (121) are next on the list, and all four are judged superior to Grand Lodge, who headed the two-year-oldratings 12 months ago on 120. Overall, there was a five per cent increase in the number of juveniles rated 115 or higher.

This is good news for owners, breeders and the stubborn band of purists who insist that racing is about improving the breed, with betting an unfortunate side-effect. All that the figures can tell the rest of us, however, is that Celtic Swing is unusuallytalented which, of course, is something we already knew. Certainly, given that his legs have shown signs of weakness, there is no justification for an ante-post bet in the 2,000 Guineas at his current odds of 2-1.

As Ciaran Kennelly, the Irish Turf Club's senior handicapper, pointed out yesterday, it is very difficult to accurately assess wide-margin victories, particularly on soft ground, while the field for the Racing Post Trophy did not contain a solitary runner with a Group-race success. Even if fate spares him an injury, Celtic Swing's superiority last year may yet prove to be the result of precocious development which his peers will eventually match and surpass. Another statistic: only six of the top-rated two-year-olds of the last 17 years have managed to improve on their rating at three.

Grand Lodge, it turned out yesterday, was one of that half-dozen, rising 5lb to 125 during the course of last season, but the best of his generation over any distance was judged to be Balanchine, the Oaks and Irish Derby winner, with a mark of 130. Distant View (128) and Tikkanen (127) were close behind, with Erhaab, the Derby winner, only joint-fourth on 126 with Carnegie, who won the Arc, and King's Theatre (King George).

It is not an opinion with which most punters, were they so inclined, would disagree, but the international panel's verdict on the older horses might generate some debate between the afternoon's more important business at Nottingham and Taunton. In particular, many will find it hard to believe that Barathea (127), the Breeders' Cup Mile winner, is reckoned to be inferior to Maroof (128), and the scepticism is not solely due to the grievous wound the latter inflicted on the nation's backers by winning the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at 66-1. Lochsong, meanwhile, is behind both, on 126.

Not, of course, that most punters care. But if Celtic Swing can maintain his dominance in his Classic season, his relative status among such champions as Dancing Brave and El Gran Senor may yet excite passion and debate throughout the sport.

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