RACING Swing to revive the wonder

Irish Derby: A would-be champion again rides a wave of expectation in a Classic test of ability
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The wave of expectation that carried Celtic Swing into this Flat season was as ferocious as any tsunami that transports brave men into the Hawaiian shoreline. That the colt's exploits were to be ultimately perceived as impressive as a paddler in the shallows was virtually inevitable. Only if Celtic Swing had won every major race in the calendar, as well as picking up a Nobel prize or two along the way, could his billing have been justified.

The bare facts, however, suggest he can still prove himself one of the outstanding horses of recent times. Only a head away from victory in the 2,000 Guineas before his success in the Prix du Jockey-Club (French Derby), Celtic Swing has already proved himself a rare beast: an animal able to perform in Group One company in the range from a mile to 12 furlongs.

It is a gentle irony that the man who has done most to remove the near- black colt from the pedestal is his greatest supporter, owner Peter Savill. His decision to absent Celtic Swing from the Derby carried with it the tacit admission that the horse could operate neither on an undulating course nor firmish going. But if Celtic Swing wins handsomely in the Irish Derby tomorrow afternoon, Savill will forever ponder the wisdom of bypassing Epsom.

The ground at the Curragh is good to firm with a good covering of grass, virtually identical to the ground offered before the Derby, and the cynics have suggested the removal of the ante-post favourite, Lammtarra, from calculations earlier this week helped Savill's stick go in a couple of inches further when he tested the terrain in Co Kildare.

Lammtarra or not, there will be some sort of evidence of Celtic Swing's worth tomorrow as Presenting, the Derby third who was less than two lengths behind Lammtarra, is among the opposition.

Whoever wins will not have stamina as their lowest suit. A hurting speed is guaranteed by Court Of Honour and Celtic Swing's hired help, the pacemaker Daraydan.

The overall balance of form suggests Celtic Swing should just about get there and keep some semblance of the wonder horse scenario alive, but a note should be made about the finishing position of Classic Cliche, who was trounced at Royal Ascot by a horse who could still be the best of the lot, Pentire.

Classic Cliche is owned by Godolphin, one arm of the Maktoum's operation. Unusually for a Group One race in Europe, Dubai's leading family are not represented in the front three of the betting.

The Maktoums will probably have greater influence in the day's other big race, the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud, in which Sheikh Mohammed's Carnegie, after a blowout in the Coronation Cup, should prove too strong for Britain's entries, Luso and Only Royale.

The British-based cards on the Sabbath are betting fodder, and the Channel 4 team might as well judge the best painted face in the crowd as assess the uninspiring horses on view at Doncaster.

This afternoon has more entertaining possibilities on the cards at Newmarket and Newcastle. At Headquarters, the 2,000 Guineas fourth, Pipe Major, attempts to give those behind Celtic Swing a shot of excitement when he drops back to the seven furlongs of the Criterion Stakes. Later on John Dunlop introduces a blueblood in the Kris Maiden Stakes, the Nureyev colt Samim, who is a half-brother to last year's Derby winner, Erhaab.

The richest race of the day, however, is at Gosforth Park, where they continue to call the Northumberland Plate "the Pitmen's Derby". The best place to find miners (and the spelling has to be different) on Tyneside these days is in pet-shop bird cages. More constant is the handicap success of Reg Akehurst, whose Latahaab will come under close scrutiny from punters.

Earlier at the meeting will be the appearance of a horse called Captain Carat, whose running at Leicester cost his trainer, Lynda Ramsden, pounds 1,000 last month. What with the additional publicity concerning the Chester Cup winner, Top Cees, Ramsden has been able to achieve what few horses have managed and keep pace with Celtic Swing, in terms of newspaper coverage at least.