RACING: New season builds slowly to full Swing

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The Independent Online
They will try hard to raise a sense of occasion at Doncaster this afternoon, the first day of the Flat season on turf, but, as usual, they will fail. This year, what's more, the task is more difficult than ever. It is not just that today's racing is mediocre (even though the Doncaster Mile, in fact, is unusually good), but rather that the 1995 Flat campaign will seem entirely irrelevant until Celtic Swing sets foot on the track at the start of his Classic season.

Those with just a passing interest in the Turf will point out - with some truth - that the sport's hype machine turns out a new "wonder horse" with amusing regularity. In recent seasons alone we have had Arazi and Armiger, both of whom, for various reasons, failed to fulfil as three- year-olds the immense promise which they displayed as juveniles.

Celtic Swing, however - if the cynics will indulge us - is a furlong in advance of either in his potential to excite the racing public. His 12-length stroll in the Racing Post Trophy - the widest winning margin ever in a Group One juvenile event in Britain - was far superior to Armiger's victory in the same race in 1992. Arazi, meanwhile, for all his brilliance in 1991, could never inspire deep affection in Britain for the simple reason that he did not appear here.

Nor was Celtic Swing's success at Doncaster a freakish result of the conditions. The impartial evidence of the Timeform stopwatch testified that Celtic Swing was one of the best two-year-olds the organisation's race-readers had seen. Quite simply, the 1995 season will rotate around Celtic Swing either until it ends, or until he is beaten.

Perhaps the most attractive strand in the Celtic Swing story is the identity of his jockey. Kevin Darley has never won the title but is as dedicated and effective as any rider in the game. His place on Celtic Swing, thanks to a long-standing contract with Peter Savill, the colt's owner, is just reward for many seasons of hard graft.

Darley has been back in Celtic Swing's saddle in recent weeks as Lady Herries prepares him on her gallops at Littlehampton, and the jockey's progress reports have been little short of euphoric. "He's done very well over the winter and I'm just over the moon with him," the jockey said yesterday. "Last year he had a slight weak look about him, he was a little angular, but he's rounded off nicely and now he's got everything in the right place. He's so laid back at home it's impossible to really say how he is until he runs, but he's done everything right and we're looking forward to wherever he goes for his first run."

That debut outing could be in the 2,000 Guineas itself, which promises to be an outstanding contest following yesterday's news that Andr Fabre's Pennekamp, the Dewhurst Stakes winner, will be aimed at the Newmarket Classic rather than its French equivalent. If Celtic Swing does need a prep race, Darley believes that the Greenham Stakes at Newbury, rather than the Craven at Newmarket, is the most likely option.

The 2,000 Guineas may or may not be the first entry in a historic career record, but the 1,000 Guineas the following day will most certainly be a race to remember. The first filly down the Rowley Mile on 7 May will be the inaugural winner of a Sunday Classic in Britain, and the introduction of regular Sunday racing with legal betting will be the season's second major point of interest.

"It's going to be an exciting year," Darley said. No argument.

n Next Tuesday: Flat trainers give their horses to follow.