Wonder horse on an upswing

selects the horses to follow as a new Flat campaign opens
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ONE of the runaway successes of recent racing seasons have been the 10-to-follow competitions organised by one of the sport's trade daily papers, the Racing Post, in conjunction with the Tote. Six years ago the inaugural pool was £10,000; this time it is likely to top the half-million mark. Compiling a list provides anticipation (or despair) for a whole season coupled with the opportunity for a huge win for a tiny outlay (a fiver).

Some enter just for fun, others take it deadly seriously. The record investment from one source has been £1,050 for 210 lists, one of which did actually produce a £10,000 monthly prize. But then so has a single line from another punter. And if jackpot fever swept Britain last week with the Tote's record £2m pool, then 10-to-follow fever is worldwide, with entries from Australia, the Far East, North America and even Belorussia.

The leading lists invariably include high-class horses, for there are bonus points for the winners of the best races. And at this stage of the season, with the turf campaign just three days old and the stars still under wraps, no bubbles have yet been burst.

The most substantial contains last term's sensation, Celtic Swing. As the champion two-year-old he appeared to have everything - a high cruising speed, the ability to quicken instantly and an ideal temperament - and if he remains sound, then all he has to do to win the Derby for Peter Savill and Lady Herries is turn up at Epsom. If his oddly structured forelegs let him down, then the obvious alternative is Pennekamp, for Andre Fabre does not wax lyrical lightly and Sheikh Mohammed's turn in the Derby will surely come.

Celtic Swing and Pennekamp will step up to middle distances after the Guineas, leaving the field clear for the specialist three-year-old milers. One who has been catching the eye in his home work recently is Smart Alec, who won twice at Newmarket last autumn. As a May foal he can only improve and it looks as if Gerald Leigh and Luca Cumani have an exciting successor to Barathea. Another back-end Newmarket winner was Nwaamis, who beat older horses in a fast time and is highly regarded by John Dunlop.

The best two-year-old fillies of last year kept beating each other, but there was much to admire about the determination of Gay Gallanta, whose trainer Michael Stoute has a consistent 1,000 Guineas record. Of the staying fillies, the lightly raced Moonshell, taken from Henry Cecil to winter in Dubai, is being groomed to follow in Balanchine's footsteps but the Mark Johnston-trained Jural, beaten only once in four outings, already has the experience and an admirable attitude to her job.

With the retirement of Lochsong, the sprint division is wide open. Owington, already a Group 1 winner for Geoff Wragg's stable, is the obvious successor but there promise to be some speedy three-year-olds coming through the ranks, notably Green Perfume (trained by Paul Cole) and the imposing filly Hoh Magic (Michael Bell), who will both be tried for the Guineas but may prove better over less than a mile.

Two high-class three-year-old stayers emerged last year, Barry Hill's surprise St Leger winner Moonax (another to have wintered in Dubai) and Fabre's classy Northern Spur, though the latter may be raced over 12 furlongs first.

The middle-distance horses may not have been world- beaters last year but they were competitive and entertaining. Balanchine was the best, and the racing world is willing that she has fully recovered from the life-threatening illness that cut her season short, but she will have to be at her peak to cope with the two in France who emerged from the pack in the autumn, Carnegie (Fabre) and Tikkanen (Jonathan Pease).

There are plenty of other names to conjure with - Dacha, Peace Envoy, Allez les Trois, Spectrum, Poliglote, Walk On Mix, Flemensfirth. But if Celtic Swing is not too good to be true, he will be the one to provide the magic.