Racing: Welcome to Swain's world

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The Independent Online
There were no fairies dancing in the paddock at Ascot on Saturday, no unicorns milling around with the rest of the runners before the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes. But something utterly unbelievable did happen. Swain won the big race and the authenticity of the tome they call the form book was impugned.

The odd thing is that no matter how many times you replay Saturday's championship, which was billboarded as the battle of the three best horses in the world, a fourth, Swain, always seems to win. Helissio does not hold on to the lead he carries into the straight, and neither Pilsudski nor Singspiel are able to peg back Swain after he hits the front two furlongs out.

They said the squelching ground made a difference, but it should not have. Helissio has already made Swain look a trifle slow when there has been give in the surface. The difference was felt more by the spectators.

The weather was such that Willie Carson broadcast to the nation - and this may explain why the horses all appeared so well honed for action - that it had been "raining steroids". By the time racing did begin the lush lawns of Ascot had turned into the sort of terrain that Old MacDonald finds under his wellingtons. How the trousers and stockings suffered.

After the gladiators entered the parade ring it appeared one horse was circling extraordinarily quickly until it became clear that Predappio, Swain and Singspiel were all of the same size, hue and shape. This was not a uniform situation. Shantou looked as though he had emerged from a My Little Pony box as he walked in company with the gargantuan Helissio. Pilsudski seemed to have forgotten his manners in front of the Queen Mother and was slavering quite disgracefully. Both he and Helissio are not the sort of characters you would like to see appearing from behind the alleyway crates on a dark night.

Singspiel has been labelled a free sweater (even though everyone should know by now that, in racing, there is no such thing as a free sweater). The five-year-old does perspire excessively, though it should be noted he was less agitated than usual in Saturday's build-up. He looked beautiful.

Helissio, as expected, made the early pace, but he was enveloped by a chestnut blur as Pat Eddery took Kingfisher Mill to the front at a speed which suggested the finishing line had been relaid at Swinley Bottom. By half-way Eddery's membership of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society had been confirmed as his partner's effort withered dramatically.

Kingfisher Mill finished last and the full extent of the sacrifice made of him has yet to surface. "He's all right now but we will have to see how he comes out of the race before deciding on the future," Julie Cecil, the colt's trainer, said yesterday. "I don't know whether he went too fast early on, but he went off like a cat in front."

This role of harrying Helissio had initially been cast for Swain. However, last weekend, he accomplished a piece of work at Newmarket that had observers sweeping their binoculars rather quickly in an effort to track him. He had earned a more positive function.

John Reid, Swain's rider, went into Saturday's contest believing there were three horses better than his, but it was not a sentiment he transmitted down the reins to Swain. The five-year-old was tucked in sweetly, just off the pace and out of range of the sparks flying from the battle for the lead.

There are portions of the final two fingers on Reid's right hand missing following a motorcycle accident, but Swain more than anyone could have told you this does not diminish the Ulsterman's wielding of the whip. As another swipe was administered at the point of victory the winner swished his tail, as if to say "don't you think I've done rather enough, old man".

Pilsudski was a tired and brave second, while Helissio, who was given an elevator ride from Cash Asmussen, travelling up and down the field, was next. Singspiel, whom they had called the world champion, was fourth.

It was a rich irony that Swain should show the Himalayas of his form after decamping to Godolphin from the Chantilly yard of Andre Fabre, who is supposedly the best trainer in Europe at least.

Swain will now take in a prep race before the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, in which he has been placed twice. Coral do not expect him to confirm Saturday's form and make him a 6-1 chance. Helissio is 3-1 favourite and Pilsudski is 7-1. Two teammates are primed in an attempt to emulate Geoff Wragg's double of 12 months ago, when the trainer sent Pentire out to win the King George and followed up with First Island in the Sussex Stakes. Godolphin's Allied Forces and Alhaarth are to contest Goodwood's focal point on Wednesday.

Of greater interest though will be Group races that lie beyond, those which contain the intake of the 47th and possibly most exhausting King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Time will tell whether there was a wrecker's lamp swinging from the Ascot winning post on Saturday. The King George is notorious for bottoming horses and it may be that this year's renewal ripped the guts out of some of its participants as finally as a brigantine lured on to a reef.