Late thrust stifles the Celtic roar

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Shortly after the race, a small man left the the jockey's quarters at Newmarket and made off into the bright sunlight. Smartly attired in a dark green double-breasted, Thierry Jarnet cradled his prize, a bottle of champagne and trailed one of those wheeled cases favoured by airline stewardesses. "There goes a lucky man," somebody said.

The implication was that the French challenger, Pennekamp, had seen off Celtic Swing in the 2,000 Guineas despite the strategy employed by his jockey. Amid the clamour that rose up during the race this was not immediately evident, but if subsequent analysis suggests good fortune rather than the fine judgement Jarnet was credited with, Celtic Swing's first defeat will acquire even more significance.

In some quarters, it had been suspected all along that Celtic Swing might not live up to the advance publicity that drew a sweltering crowd to Newmarket, people craning six deep around the parade ring for a glimpse of the horse they had been led to believe was the greatest since the 1970 Triple Crown winner, Nijinsky.

Nevertheless, a majority agreed that the horse looked in superb shape and those who had invested their savings for practical rather sentimental reasons licked their lips in anticipation of a miserable day for the bookmakers. Not long before the race, Victor Chandler laid a bet of £10,000 at 4-5 and collectively they stood to lose £10 million.

A calculated view was that it would come as no surprise if Celtic Swing did not act on the fast ground and might not have made an appearance but for the intense hyperbole. Certainly, as the horses cantered past the grandstand on the way to the start, Pennekamp came under close and nervous scrutiny appropriate to his impressive victory in the Dewhurst Stakes last autumn.

If, as Kevin Darley reported, Celtic Swing lost a little concentration when Chilly Billy became agitated in the stall alongside him, and then took a bump from Pipe Major on the other side, all appeared to be going well as they came to the two furlong marker. But the great roar that went up as Darley kicked for home was quickly stifled by Pennekamp's urgent thrust. Whether or not it was Jarnet's intention to play a waiting game, he switched to the outside and into the lead 150 yards out. Celtic Swing responded bravely but defeat by a head flattered him slightly.

Having allowed the owner a brief period of mourning, interrogators found Peter Savill making few excuses. "On the day we were beaten by a better horse." he said.

As for Pennekamps's trainer, Andr Fabre, who has a reputation for reticence that makes Kenny Dalglish sound loquacious, he could not have been happier. With the Derby in mind he places more importance on speed than stamina. Not many winners of the Epsom Classic have been true stayers is more or less what he was saying.

By the time of this suggestion the crowds had begun to dwindle. Emphasising the extent to which Celtic Swing had become public property, his supposed potential transcending the sport, many left the course immediately after his defeat. ''Disappointing'', a man said when shepherding his son down a crowded stairway. ''I wanted the boy to see history being made. But that's racing for you.''

Trouble is that Celtic Swing has been invested with human qualities. ''Now he knows what it's like to come second,'' his harassed trainer, Lady Herries said, as though the experience would serve as an admonishment. Celtic Swing gulped his oats and slept easily. Didn't give losing a thought.