Seldom since Caligula decided it would be quite nice to have a four-legged friend in his cabinet has a horse reached such high station as Celtic Swing.
The big, almost black, powerful colt achieved so much as a two-year-old last season, winning his three races by a cumulative 24 lengths, that future Classic success was considered more an inevitability than a possibility. When, in an almost motor racing grand prix-style ceremony, the silk sheet was pulled off Celtic Swing yesterday there were some extraordinarily short odds attached to his prospects for 1995. He is 6-4, with William Hill, to win the 2,000 Guineas, 3-1 for the Derby and just 9-1 to complete the Classic set in the St Leger.
Celtic Swing is no ordinary horse and yesterday was no ordinary day as journalists from around the globe (the bloke from Japan was particularly insistent) attended his official unveiling as a three-year-old at Angmering Park, the West Sussex stable of his trainer, Lady Anne Herries.
While the headlines have already been written for the "King of Swing" there were reminders yesterday that the colt is also the product of a patrician team. After a pheasant-dodging journey up to the main house, visitors were greeted by Lady Herries' husband, Sir Colin Cowdrey. Cowdrey's cricketing son, Graham, is responsible for naming Celtic Swing, a composition by his favourite artist, Van Morrison.
Angmering Park Stud was founded in 1937 by Lady Herries' late father, the 16th Duke of Norfolk. His daughter, at the age of 56, has had her career powered by Cape Canaveral fuel in recent years. From 24 horses in the yard in 1993, she now has more than 70.
Following the welcome, a caravan of cars and Land Rovers curled up the farm tracks to watch work on the gallops. Those who felt weak after the 10-minute drive were able to resuscitate themselves with either game soup, sloe gin or Don Pavral port (LBV 1987).
The supplies did not last long (this says more about the Fourth Estate than the guesswork of the caterers). Away went the trestle tables, and out came an unusual sense of expectation.
It takes much to move some of the older denizens of the press room, but there was genuine anticipation in the air as the single file of horses started their run out of sight at the bottom of the old Burpham gallop.
After several minutes, in the shimmering distance, he came into view. The horse with the dark and shiny hide of newly struck crude made his way up eight furlongs of the all-weather gallop. Celtic Swing came, nose- banded, past the corps, ridden by the stable lad who calls him Joey, Bob Mason.
"He only does as much as he has to at home," Lady Herries said, by way of commentary. But, for all that, he looked a keen animal, his neck stretching and his limbs digging in as he was asked to take on the incline of the Eurotrack surface.
The trainer treated Celtic Swing as just another horse as she identified each of the 28 horses swooping past. But she knows he is not. The colt is very possibly the next truly great horse, an animal such as Nijinsky or Shergar whose feats will make him a part of the everyday lexicon.
Celtic Swing has not been weighed, but the obvious evidence is that he is a far more muscled athlete than the skinny teenager of last season. "He has definitely matured and put on weight," Lady Herries said. "And his attitude is just as good. There is no bad thought in his head."
There have been stories, while the rumour mill was on maximum output this winter, however, about how the great horse was coughing and prone to breaking blood vessels, but the beast paraded in front of the visitors looked no invalid. The staring eye was keen, his near blackness interrupted by only the splash of a blaze on his face, one white hoof and red bandages on his forelegs. Here was a four-legged creature who, by three devastating actions, had made his worth about £3m.
This may increase. The first increment should come in Newbury's Greenham Stakes on Saturday week, when Celtic Swing makes his seasonal debut. His trainer will be terrified. "I'll be very nervous," Lady Herries said. "I'll want to hide."
The jockeys riding against Celtic Swing will probably feel the same. In the Racing Post Trophy, Richard Hills [on the pace-setting Fahal] asked Kevin Darley [Celtic Swing's regular jockey] why he was taking up the running so early. "Am I not going fast enough?" Hills asked. There was little ambiguity about Darley's retort. "No," he replied.
Nevertheless, there is still space for self-doubt at Angmering Park. "There is so much hype about the horse, but it might be that he's just beaten the 2nd XI," Lady Herries said. "He also beat the clock at Ascot and that was great because he wasn't racing against anything, but there are good horses who have been maturing over the winter and they're going to come out. We hope he will be a good horse and we just hope he can win a Classic."
No chances will be taken. A 24-hour camera surveillance system has been installed at the yard to deter those that mean no good. "So many people have got money on him that we can't take any risks," Lady Herries said. "Before we relied on padlocks."
Before he was led back to his secure box yesterday, Celtic Swing shook his head violently, and then made a mess of Lady Herries' carefully tended front lawn. The trainer scolded the colt playfully, and those looking on wondered whether Celtic Swing would perform a similar act with his opponents this season.Reuse content