Companion speaks loudly for Charnwood's potential

RACING: The trials commence tomorrow for the Flat season's first Classics, the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas. Is there a colt to mount a serious challenge to Celtic Swing and which filly will emerge to lead her generation?
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As the scene for a great sporting encounter, there can be few more uninspiring venues than the straight, wind-blasted eight furlongs at Newmarket they call the Rowley Mile. This strip of undulating ground, however, has been the track for some of racing's most stirring contests in the 2,000 Guineas: Brigadier Gerard's defeat of Mill Reef in 1971, El Gran Senor's humbling of a truly excellent field 13 years later and Zafonic's track-record-breaking run two seasons ago.

There is a widely held belief that the 1995 Guineas, which will be run three weeks tomorrow, is likely to be another seminal moment in racing, an event that will ensure that the Classic itself, rather than the reading on the Beaufort scale, will be the overriding memory of the day.

If one horse blows the others away then it will surely be Celtic Swing, whose official unveiling for the season at Angmering Park on Wednesday contained such gravitas that it would have been no surprise to see the colt arriving in a motorcade preceded by outriders.

Much the same as last year, Lady Herries's colt is showing signs of schizophrenia. Connections are hoping that this consistently reluctant horse on the gallops will continue to be a spitting monster on the racetrack itself. "He's laid back rather than lazy," the trainer says. "Once he gets to the front he just says `I've done it'."

In a bad year, Celtic Swing, who will be ridden at work by Kevin Darley today, would not have had to improve a single pound from his last victory, in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster, to take the Guineas. But this does not seem to be a bad year. By the time he has attempted to justify favouritism for the Classic in the Greenham Stakes at Newbury tomorrow week many others will have made their pitch.

Potentially the most devastating signal will come tomorrow from Pennekamp, the French horse, in the Prix Djebel at Evry. Just four horses are expected to oppose Andr Fabre's colt, including the pacemaker Viva Nureyev. One of the field, Sharpest Image, will be having his 13th run of the season.

Nevertheless it is unlikely to be a stroll in the meadow for Pennekamp, not least because the trip of six and a half furlongs is desperately short for an animal who is thought to possess sufficient stamina to see out the Derby trip.

Also tomorrow afternoon is Kempton's Easter Stakes, which purports to be some sort of trial, but far more significant will be the Craven meeting at Newmarket next week. The Craven Stakes itself on Thursday may be contested, by among others, Peter Chapple-Hyam's pairing of Painter's Row and General Monash, but it could be that the most telling contest is the Granby Maiden Stakes the same day.

This is the target for Henry Cecil's Charnwood Forest, who, this spring, has earned the annual sash reserved for Newmarket's loudest talking horse. This maiden race was contested last year by Distant View, who went on to capture the Sussex Stakes, and the four-year-old has been jousting with Charnwood Forest on the gallops at Headquarters.

The younger horse has been coming off worse in these trials but it is some sort of testament that he has even been allowed to run with Distant View, who, at home, can beat any conveyance that does not require petrol.

And then there are the others who may go straight to the Guineas, the third-favourite Sri Pekan, Vettori, who may arrive at the course in Raybans after his winter in Dubai, and Nwaamis.

The last-named, who is trained by John Dunlop, looked hugely impressive when winning his only start last season, but it is a very strong possibility he may not even be the best horse in his parish. For only a few miles down the road resides the horse who will probably make or break both the 2,000 Guineas and the whole season, Celtic Swing.