Swing must carry a season's expectation

RACING: Perhaps only nature can prevent another victory for the colt burdened with great hopes
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The Independent Online
It is no melodrama to suggest the whole Flat season could be spoiled within the space of 90 seconds this afternoon. It is all down to Celtic Swing.

The unbeaten two-year-old champion of Europe made such an impact last season that it will be a grave disappointment to many if he does not win the Triple Crown and the Irish Derby this year, as well as Come Dancing and the World Cave Diving championships along the way.

Such hopes will be debris, however, if Celtic Swing cannot capture Newbury's Greenham Stakes today at the genesis of his Classic year.

Celtic Swing faces eight opponents for the Group Three contest, none of whom is of particularly high calibre. Diffident and Green Perfume had been entered for the race, presumably to act as picadors against Lady Herries's colt, enervating him for the benefit of better-fancied 2,000 Guineas aspirants. Both, though, have been withdrawn, leaving Henry Cecil's Peace Envoy and Bishop Of Cashel, who was runner-up to Thursday's Craven Stakes winner Painter's Row in the Horris Hill Stakes last season, as the more credible challengers.

However, if Celtic Swing is to be beaten, it is more likely to be by nature. He was so good, so far clear as a juvenile that it may be that was the time of life set aside for his peak. In appearance and being, though, there has been little to suggest this spring that the colt's best runs have all gone. The near-black figure looks as if he has just stepped down from a canvas, while the messages through the reins have not been discouraging.

"You can't be 100 per cent sure they've trained on until you get them on a race track, but he's doing all the right things at home," Kevin Darley, Celtic Swing's jockey, said yesterday. "There was a scare that he might get a little bit too big and heavy-topped over the winter, but he hasn't grown upwards and he hasn't filled out too much. He's lost that angular look he had last year when he was very unfurnished.

"The first time I rode him this year it was his first piece of work and he didn't jump straight into the bridle and took a bit of time to get going. But now he knows there is something coming up and he's a little tighter in himself and ready for a race."

Darley and the rest of the headline team behind Celtic Swing - trainer Lady Anne Herries and the colt's owner, Peter Savill - have been little interested in the Guineas trials that have punctuated the last week. They would rather worry about matters they can affect. "There will be a little bit of tension, because we're in the dark about how fit the horse is and how well he's done over the winter," Darley said.

"He's a fun horse now. It's a different sort of pressure because he hasn't really got to prove himself. Of course he has to show it at three, but we already know he's been a good horse when he was a two-year-old."

Whatever unfolds at 3.00pm this afternoon Celtic Swing should be able to cope. His trainer is convinced he can alternate his previous freewheeling style with a more studied, waiting approach. She has not had to argue with her jockey over this opinion. "He's such an easy horse that I don't think you have to tie the jockey down with instructions," Darley said.

"You can get races like the Craven, which are tactical with horses and jockeys not wanting to commit themselves. That means all sorts of things can happen. But you can do anything with this horse and that means you can never have a hard luck story. As far as that goes, I've got the easier job by far," he explained.

Team Celtic Swing may already have a Group Three prize in their possession by the time their best animal runs, as, 30 minutes earlier, River North contests the John Porter Stakes. He may struggle, though, to give 5lb to Linney Head, who has not run since injuring himself in last year's Derby, but has recently been working well on Newmarket's Long Gallop.

The cartridge chambers in the jumps season have nearly all been exhausted, but Ayr provides some compelling entertainment in the shape of Morceli's rematch with Dancing Paddy in the Future Champion Novices' Chase, and Simple Arithmetic's challenge for the Scottish Champion Hurdle.

In addition, the most valuable prize of the day awaits the winner of the Scottish National, for which 22 go to post. Royal Athlete is the favourite here to complete an Aintree-Ayr double, last achieved in the same year by Red Rum in 1974.