Racing: Grey Swallow ready to clash with Doyen

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The Independent Online

Whatever happens for the rest of this season, indeed in his entire career, Dermot Weld is a great winner. The Irish trainer has achieved the remarkable feat of sending out the first horse in the Galway Plate last week and living, and remembering, long enough to tell the tale.

Whatever happens for the rest of this season, indeed in his entire career, Dermot Weld is a great winner. The Irish trainer has achieved the remarkable feat of sending out the first horse in the Galway Plate last week and living, and remembering, long enough to tell the tale.

The Galway Festival is a place where Bacchus would fear to tread, a venue to which only the most fearless purchase a return ticket. The popping corks provoked by Ansar last Wednesday may be just the first volley to be heard around Rosewell House on the Curragh in the coming weeks and months.

The beauty of this stage of the season is that the small and weak players have been forced away from the table. All that remains are the high rollers and the anticipation of great hands to be played.

Weld yesterday contributed to what will be a fantastic pot next month when he announced that Grey Swallow had matured into "the horse I always knew he would be" and was travelling down the lines neatly to an engagement in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.

That puts the grey on a spectacular collision course with the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner, Doyen, in a race which could start a series between the champions apparent. The Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, at Longchamp on 3 October, also lies on the respective agendas.

Grey Swallow was in danger of becoming a nearly horse after placed efforts in the 2,000 Guineas and the Irish equivalent this spring, but all talk of fragility was blown away when Grey Swallow himself blew away the Epsom Blue Riband victor North Light with a neat burst on the Curragh in the Irish Derby. "We now know he gets a mile and a half in a really strongly-run Derby. The Arc is his autumn target, but the Irish Champion is, if I can use the word, his prep race. But it's a very tough prep race and maybe even tougher than the Arc," Weld said.

Grey Swallow had threatened to be little more than a juvenile spark, following a two-year-old career in which he was unbeaten in three starts. The season's early salvos were not particularly portentous, but we now know there is much more to him than youthful exuberance.

"He was a brilliant two-year-old, that's why he was champion two-year-old of Ireland. He ran fourth in the English Guineas and third in the Irish Guineas and he has progressed," the trainer added. "The conditions in the spring were changeable and a lot of the horses weren't at their peak. There were little viruses floating around and my overall team had not struck real form.

"Grey Swallow was always healthy, but the horses around him were just running slightly beneath what I know they are capable of and I'm sure he was just beneath the top of his form.

"The Guineas come very early in the year, too early, I think. He ran two excellent races in them but I now believe he has matured into the horse I always thought he would be. I said before the Irish Derby that he was a better horse. He was stronger and physically better and he has continued to progress."

Another of the great breathing monuments at Weld's yard will soon be wheeled out again. Media Puzzle will return at this local Curragh track at the weekend for the first time since he made himself famous on the other side of the world with success in the 2002 Melbourne Cup.

The now seven-year-old is scheduled to participate in the Group Two Royal Whip over what will almost certainly prove an inadequate 10 furlongs on Sunday.

"He's in super order, although he will probably need the run because he has been off the track for so long and it is also over a mile and two furlongs," Weld said.

"But he starts his comeback with the objective of the Melbourne Cup again, if he gets a reasonable weight and a fair shot. We'll see how he progresses in the coming months, but the Melbourne Cup is his target."

* Bay Tree and Kinnaird will represent British stables in the Prix de Psyche at Deauville today. Tom Queally will be aboard David Loder's Bay Tree, while Kevin Darley takes the ride on Patrick Haslam's Kinnaird in the Group Three contest. Bay Tree steps back up in class after finishing unplaced in Listed company at Royal Ascot on her last outing. Kinnaird seeks compensation after three good efforts this season.

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