Sombre end to the Swing era

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The Independent Online

reports from the Curragh

The fading dream finally died here yesterday when Celtic Swing limped home a badly beaten eighth to Winged Love in the Irish Derby. The wonder horse label is now confetti.

The colt's connections applied the salve that Celtic Swing was injured in the race, but the brutal reality is that great horses have soundness to match athletic brilliance. The near-black colt can no longer be in their company.

There was little evidence of the bathos to come when Celtic Swing entered the parade ring. Yes there was a patina of creamy sweat at the top of his thighs, but the three-year-old was alert yet calm. If he was nervous the only signal was when he deposited on the oval of concrete.

There was little to trouble Celtic Swing in the early stages of the race as Daraydan, the 5-4 favourite's pacemaker, set off as if he had seen a snake. Kevin Darley, Celtic Swing's jockey, felt contented until the field poured into the straight. But in the space of a few strides his hopes perished. When Darley returned to the weighing room he had the look of a man who had met with a truncheon-blow. There were no words. Later he was able to relive a nasty story.

"We went from the sublime to the ridiculous," he said. "Going into the straight it was all over bar the shouting but then he would not let himself go for some reason. Once I changed his reins he put his head to one side and ran as if he was hurting." This diagnosis was confirmed when Celtic Swing was found to be sore on his off-fore leg by the racecourse vet.

"The vet says he'll be feeling it in the morning," Lady Anne Herries, the colt's trainer, said. "It's typical of a horse who has had sore shins in the past that he does not let himself down."

Peter Savill, Celtic Swing's owner, refused to blame the firmish ground for his horse's demise and neither could he. The Curragh executive's watering policy had been close to the limbo end of bending over to suit him.

Savill hid the distress well behind spectacles and smiles and he repeated the belief that the Celtic Swing which Ireland saw yesterday was an impostor of the horse that had swept to glory in Britain and France. "For a long time Kevin thought it was just a matter of pressing the button," he said. "The horse was going really well despite the fact they were going a heck of a pace.

"But when Kevin asked him to start going with them he went from going really well to struggling very quickly. He changed his legs quite violently and he was never on an even keel after that. He's gone too far out for that to be his form. It's too bad to be true. Horses aren't machines and I would think the horse isn't right for some reason." Savill, however, was not to be the only sickened man.

After Celtic Swing started to wobble (he eventually finished seven lengths behind the winner) the race developed into a duel between Definite Article and Winged Love, which meant that one of the sport's quirkiest facts was about to be scrubbed out. The colts are trained by Dermot Weld and Andre Fabre respectively, great trainers both, but men who until yesterday had not won a major Derby. Weld still hasn't.

After Definite Article was caught close home his team was devastated. Mick Kinane, the jockey, blamed himself for making his final thrust a moment too early; Weld had the disposition of those at a graveside. "It's 10 years since I had a Derby horse and it may be 10 years before I have another," the trainer said.

The joy belonged principally to Sheikh Mohammed, who had earlier received news that his Carnegie, also trained by Fabre, had won the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud. Olivier Peslier, who was winning on his first ride in Ireland, was hardly disgruntled either.

The Sheikh is enjoying times that come usually after he has finished counting sheep. Victory in his maroon and white silks here supplemented the amazing success of his Godolphin operation, the team that winters horses in Dubai and has now won Group races in eight countries since the beginning of April.

The owner's equine riches now match his pecuniary wealth and Dubai's Crown Prince is struggling to find top races for all his horses. A natural stopping off point now for Winged Love would be the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, but the Sheikh already had three horses - Carnegie, Balanchine and Lammtarra - earmarked for that event. Winged Love himself will now be allowed time on the Lilo before he is returned for an autumn campaign.

By then Celtic Swing may be back and so will the soft ground he needs. However, the cloak of invincibility he once wore and which has been slipping from his withers, will be gone. Just before yesterday's race a light aircraft trailed a message over the Curragh advertising black-tie wear; just afterwards all those who had hoped Celtic Swing was the next super horse were reaching for the black armbands.


IRISH DERBY (1m 4f): 1. WINGED LOVE (O Peslier) 5-1; 2. Definite Article (M J Kinane) 5-1; 3. Annus Mirabilis (W R Swinburn) 9-1. 13 ran. 5-4 fav Celtic Swing (8th). sht-hd, 3/4. (Trained by A Fabre in France). Tote: pounds 6.00; pounds 2.30, pounds 1.50, pounds 4.00. Reverse Forecast: pounds 13.70. CSF: pounds 29.61. NR: Presenting. After a stewards' inquiry, the result stood.


GRAND PRIX DE SAINT-CLOUD (1m 4f): 1. CARNEGIE (T Jarnet); 2. Luso (R Cochrane); 3. Only Royale (G Mosse). 8 ran. Sht-nk, 2. Pari-Mutuel (1f stake): 2.90; 1.40, 2.70, 1.90. DF 18.60. (Trained by A Fabre, in France).