Racing: Swing aims for heights: The impressive winner of the Hyperion Stakes now has to justify the hype in the top grade

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FINE weather in recent weeks has softened the blow, but to anyone leaning over a paddock rail, the imminence of winter has been apparent for at least a fortnight. The horses are putting on their thick winter coats and Flat racing - on grass, at least - is ready to enter its five-month hibernation.

Whether it feels like five months, or more like 10, will probably depend on Celtic Swing's performance in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster this afternoon. The Flat desperately needs a horse to look forward to in 1995, and to date the juvenile Pattern races have failed to provide one.

Pennekamp showed talent rather than brilliance in the Dewhurst Stakes, but Celtic Swing, in winning the relatively unimportant Hyperion Stakes at Ascot by eight lengths, seemed to offer a hint of greatness. The expectation on the young shoulders of the ante-post Derby favourite this afternoon will make a half- length victory feel like failure.

The one certain fact about Celtic Swing is that, at odds of around 8-13, the only investment which backers should make is their hope for the future. Only rarely is the Hyperion Stakes won by a top-class juvenile, and the colt's trainer, the canny Lady Herries, admitted this week that his margin of victory at Ascot was a surprise even to her.

So is Celtic Swing really the finest performer since Dancing Brave? Or was this year's Hyperion Stakes hopelessly weak? At long odds-on, it is not a decision which punters can afford to get wrong.

The presence of Michael Stoute's Annus Mirabilis in today's field may be particularly significant. The runner-up to Celtic Swing in his Ascot stroll was Singspiel - also saddled by Stoute, who seems sure to be this year's champion trainer. Stoute not only decided to re- oppose Celtic Swing this afternoon, but also persuaded Annus Mirabilis's owner to pay a lumpy supplementary entry fee to do so. He at least seems convinced that Celtic Swing is beatable, and punters would be wise to take the hint.

For the second week in succession, backers can enjoy a Group One race with eight runners and a hot favourite, the ideal combination for each-way betting. Don Corleone, winner of the competitive Houghton Sales Stakes at Newmarket and prepared by Roger Charlton, one of the country's finest trainers, was outstanding value at 8-1 three days ago.

Even at the 7-1 now available, though, he must be a fair bet against the unproven, and quite probably overrated, favourite. Peter Savill, who owns Celtic Swing, said at Doncaster yesterday: 'My only worry is if he'll go on the ground, he's got such a good action and it's obviously holding out there.'

Whatever the outcome of this afternoon's race, the winners' connections can at least retreat to the Caribbean for the winter safe in the knowledge that the curse of the Trophy has been lifted.

From 1988 until last year, winners of the race had struggled to follow up as three-year- olds with success at any level, but King's Theatre's victory in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes in July should have finally put the hex to rest.

Armiger, the 1992 Trophy winner, was one of the under- achievers, though he did at least run second in the following year's St Leger. The winner that day on Town Moor was Bob's Return, who was himself somewhat disappointing thereafter, and was retired yesterday without recording a single subsequent victory. 'He came back from the Irish St Leger with a slight injury to his off-fore,' Mark Tompkins, the colt's trainer, said yesterday. 'It was a tough decision but the owners and I feel the time has come to retire him.'

This year's 40-1 Leger winner, Moonax, is Britain's most significant challenger abroad this weekend. His six rivals in the Prix Royal-Oak (French St Leger) at Longchamp include Luca Cumani's Kithanga.

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