The worry of a whole winter disappeared in a moment for Kevin Darley on Saturday, the moment his legs squeezed into Celtic Swing's ribs. "For the first time I felt him really accelerate and extend when I picked him up," the jockey reported after Newbury's Greenham Stakes. "His response was instantaneous."
In a matter of strides racing's new wonder horse had kept the dream alive; Celtic Swing continued to nurture the thought that he, like athletes such as Jesse Owens and Mark Spitz before him, was exhibiting a talent that would be remembered for its singularity.
William Hill now make Celtic Swing a 5-1 chance for the Triple Crown - the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger - which must be the greatest act of meanness since mill owners took the coppers round on pay day. In the fall-out from Saturday, there are now several who think Lady Herries's colt somewhat less than invincible.
John Dunlop, the trainer of Saturday's runner-up Bahri, seemed even more self-satisfied than normal. Paul Cole, fortified by a decent piece of morning work from his main 2,000 Guineas hope Sri Pekan, a 41,768-1 Newbury four-timer, plus the prospect of spending a night at the Ritz in Paris after his brother-in-law's stag party, was similarly upbeat.
But, for all that, the strongest feeling came from the Celtic Swing team. Relief was overtaken by excitement.
That there was tension was obvious in the build-up. Celtic Swing arrived at the course like some major movie figure stepping out of a taxi for a Broadway premiere, his every step being followed on camera as he negotiated the horsebox ramp on his way to the course stables.
In the parade ring, Lady Herries was so nervous she struggled to concentrate on conversation with the green-clothed lady at her side who had celebrated a 69th birthday the previous day, one Queen Elizabeth II. She marched across the lawns with a green and white umbrella in her hand being employed as a walking stick.
Peter Savill, Celtic Swing's owner, smiled the sort of smile that people use when trying to hide true feelings and Darley added to the atmosphere when he was the last man to enter the arena to be legged up. Only Celtic Swing himself, it appeared, was calm. He circled meekly at the side of a 62-year-old man whose job title is lad, Bob Mason.
Last season, the near black colt was known for near- schizophrenia. Close to a sloth at home, he was a much more competitive beast at the racecourse. Darley soon discovered that this trait remains.
"In races like that there can be a muddling pace with jockeys not knowing when to go and commit themselves and the last thing he wants is to be stuck in the middle of horses going nowhere and asked to do something too quickly," the jockey said. "So I bounced him out and I was surprised how keen he was.
"He was lobbing along in behind and content to get a lead, but after a while they weren't going fast enough. From a furlong and half out he was idling, but the last thing we wanted to do was smack his backside and give him a hard race.
"I had him on a big long rein, with loops in the rein, and I just gave him a slap down the neck. He won enjoying himself. A furlong out there was a line of press photographers like a big, black blanket and he posed for them. I'm sure that if I'd pushed the buttons he would have found a little bit more for me. At Doncaster last year [in the Racing Post Trophy] whenever I gave him a smack he kept finding."
At the line, Celtic Swing was barely more than a length clear, his shortest ever winning distance, but it was the nature of his display that was so captivating. He ran, in manner, like an old handicapper, with no rough edges. He did not fight for his head, he did not change his legs and, even when put under pressure, he maintained a course as straight as taut rope.
The time was good and at even-money with Ladbrokes for the 2,000 Guineas on Saturday week he looks astonishing value. The colt has never been extended on the racecourse, and saves himself once he has taken a lead. "It's always the same at home," Lady Herries said. "Whatever you work him with he goes past and then thinks he's done enough." Behind her, the victor looked magnificent. He was steaming, stamping and shaking, his fine sweat deposited over those too close.
There has been much sweating too at Angmering Park in recent months as the great horse has been cranked up for his three-year-old debut. The tension was released like water from a burst hydrant on Saturday afternoon. "The lead-up has been a nightmare," Lady Herries said. "I'm glad it's over. This race will bring him on a lot and put him absolutely spot-on."
Lady Herries went, as usual, to church yesterday morning and left notice behind that her horse was still alive and well. In 12 days' time he will travel to Newmarket as the most talked-about horse of recent times, and probably the shortest-priced for the 2,000 Guineas, somewhere near the odds of 4-7 appended to Nijinksy in 1970.
A further, much-quoted, statistic on Saturday was that only one horse in the last 60 years, Wollow in 1976, has won both the Greenham and the 2,000 Guineas. He is about to lose his place in the record books.Reuse content