RACING: Colt has sights set on Derby record

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The Independent Online
Racing fans cry "wonder horse" so regularly that the claim must always be treated with care, but in Celtic Swing we may have found the most talented performer since Dancing Brave, perhaps even since Brigadier Gerard.

Celtic Swing, a two-year-old trained at Arundel by Lady Herries, won the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster in October by 12 lengths, an unheard of margin in a top-class event.

The most significant verdict on the performance came from the mathematicians with stopwatches who analyse race-times, all of whom agreed that Celtic Swing's victory was the finest by a two-year-old for many years.

His reappearance at the start of his Classic season, expected to be in the Craven Stakes at Newmarket on 20 April, may overshadow even the Cheltenham Festival as the most significant date in the first half of the year.

Assuming, of course, that he gets that far. Other brilliant two-year-olds have failed to show equivalent form at three, because of injury or a failure to develop as swiftly as their peers. Though they weigh half a ton, horses are remarkably delicate athletes, and Celtic Swing has already suffered from splints in his legs, a sign that they are under stress. His engine is clearly superb. The most important question of 1995 will be whether he has the chassis to match.

Ambitious (some would say fate-tempting) plans have already been laid for him, including an attempt on the Triple Crown - 2,000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger - last completed by Nijinsky in 1970.

If Celtic Swing is successful at Epsom, he will be the first colt to win the Derby on a Saturday for 40 years, but a more significant place in turf history will belong to the 1,000 Guineas winner, who will be the first horse to take a British Classic on a Sunday.

Away from the course, too, there will be changes. Not all punters are looking forward to open-fronted betting shops - allowing passers-by to see precisely who is having a bet - and the expected introduction of fruit machines midway through the year wouldbe another retrograde step for those who wish to use their judgement and place a bet in peace. For armchair backers, the biggest difference will be watching the Cheltenham Festival on Channel 4 for the first time. The Gold Cup without Peter O'Sullevan will also take some getting used to.

One long-established pattern will persist, though. Punters will get poorer, and the bookmakers richer - but the sport which allows them to profit will receive next to nothing in return.