Sloe gin and port, plus associated hamper goodies, were provided as sustenance by Lady Herries as Celtic Swing unfurled his limitless legs during preparation for his three-year-old debut. The comestibles remain the enduring memory, as the two-year-old leviathan was let down by wonky limbs in his Classic year.
Celtic Swing won the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) that season, but it is a measure of the expectation that accompanied him to the track that the achievement of winning France's premier Classic is considered unworthy return for the talent the horse possessed.
Celtic Swing certainly looked good that spring morning as he carved his way up the Polytrak all-weather gallop on Lady Herries' trial grounds. But the piece of work accomplished on this devilishly steep incline which is now pertinent occurred on Good Friday this year when a vanload of horses trundled over from the Arundel premises of John Dunlop.
Among this batch was Mujahid, the champion two-year-old of last season, who had performed acceptably in his casual pieces of formative three-year- old exercise. This, though, was the test. The tyro was pitched in against older horses, two beasts which could hold their own in Group races. They should have been a match, and more, for the young pretender over this private, seven-furlong encounter.
Mujahid, however, swept them aside with an alacrity which suggested this acre of Sussex would, after all, prove to be the nurturing ground of a champion. Reports of the work soon filtered back and Mujahid was again seriously supported for the 2,000 Guineas. While other reputations have been splintering at the outset of the campaign, Mujahid has yet to show a weakness.
The single soft spot in his make-up would appear to be his breeding, which suggests the mile of his reappearance this afternoon at the July course is on the outer limits of his compass. Mujahid's father is Danzig, whose progeny usually excel at sprint distances. In addition, Mujahid has developed a typical dragster's physique over the winter, a chunkiness not associated with staying animals.
Nevertheless, it is hard to erase previous evidence, the moment when the colt blasted away from a notable field in last year's juvenile championship, the Dewhurst Stakes up the road at the Rowley Mile course. He has only a further furlong to travel this afternoon.
Certainly Mujahid is being treated like a good horse. Dunlop announced earlier this week that the colt would not run if the ground was firm (his only failure came on such ground at York in the Gimcrack Stakes, from which Mujahid returned with sore shins).
By yesterday though the message had changed considerably and a fresh bulletin said the horse would be absent if there was overnight rain and a further softening of the terrain. No wonder they call today's trial the Craven Stakes.
An alternative plan should the ground be too muddy for Mujahid's poor little feet is for the colt's owner, Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, to be represented instead by Mutaahab, his Royal Lodge Stakes winner trained by Dunlop's son, Ed. Both horses will not run.
There were snowflakes landing on the July course last night, but not the sort of heavy precipitation that had been predicted. "I think he'll probably run because the bad weather forecast hasn't appeared," Dunlop snr said. "He's been working well and you'd expect him to. We'll just have to see about the trip. You can hope but you have to see. He should win on the form."
Mujahid (3.10) it should be then, and his price for the Guineas will again be pared as in Brancaster, the Horris Hill Stakes winner on heavy ground, and Compton Admiral, the horse which floored the mightily-rated Killer Instinct at Ascot, he faces redoubtable opposition.
The previous Feilden Stakes is also of more than passing interest as last year it produced Border Arrow, who later filled third place in both the 2,000 Guineas and the Derby. The one to be on here is MARKAN (nap 2.35), who comes from Paul Cole's in-form stable and who has been working well with Billy McCaw, a winner for Whatcombe here on Tuesday.Reuse content