Wragg blushes not spared by Pentire

RACING: A colt once considered short of Derby standard has a further opportunity at Goodwood today to underline a Classic error
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The Independent Online
Goodwood racecourse might be advised to supply Geoff Wragg with a large paper bag shortly before his colt Pentire contests the Predominate Stakes this afternoon. For one thing, the trainer may feel a little queasy if, as form indicates he should, Pentire wins. And even if he keeps his stomach under control, Wragg can always pop the bag over his head and slip out of the course unrecognised.

Who could blame him? Pentire has, after all, won two Derby trials, at Sandown and Chester, so far this season. The Predominate would give him a rare treble, but when the girths are being tightened on Pennekamp and company at Epsom on 10 June, Pentire will be boxed up in Newmarket, for the simple reason that Wragg thought entering him would be a waste of money.

To be fair, time will probably show that Wragg's decision - taken on the basis of promising but unexceptional two-year-old form - was the correct one, and what embarrassment there is would be better apportioned to anyone who insists that today's race still merits the description "Derby trial". The Predominate is simply not a logical target for the top trainers' Classic candidates, and though it is sometimes a useful last resort for a horse which has had a setback, that is not the case this year. The 1995 Derby trials began with the 2,000 Guineas on 6 May and ended with Spectrum's success in the Irish equivalent two days ago - and there was little to get excited about in between.

Thus we find Pennekamp and Celtic Swing, first and second at Newmarket, dominating the ante-post lists with Spectrum at 11-8, 5-2 and 4-1 respectively, 10-1 bar. The obvious temptation is to find an each-way bet among the outsiders, but (with the possible exceptions of Sebastian and Tamure) you might back half a dozen without a single one managing to find a place. The bookies believe, in effect, that the chance that this year's Derby winner will come from the leading trio is about 95 per cent. It is very difficult to disagree.

It is easier, though, to see the finish at Epsom involving two horses rather than three. Spectrum won cosily enough at The Curragh, but his sudden arrival in a previously stagnant market seems just a little too convenient for the people who set the odds. His style of running does not guarantee that he will get 12 furlongs, and the current 4-1 is surely as short as he will ever get.

The worry is that ignoring Spectrum is also, in its own way, too convenient. No-one who was at Epsom for the 1989 Derby could ever forget the spine- chilling roar which swept around the Downs as Nashwan and Cacoethes, 5- 4 and 3-1 respectively, joined issue all too briefly with two furlongs to run. A head-to-head Derby, with all but a handful of punters on one or the other, would rattle windows from Sutton to Staines.

What a temptation for fate, not least because Celtic Swing's very participation at Epsom remains far from certain. Peter Savill, his owner, insists that the colt will travel to Chantilly for the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) if the ground conditions at Epsom are considered unacceptably fast and Ladbrokes, at least, are sufficiently impressed to retain the "with a run" clause after Celtic Swing's odds.

Yet this, remember, is the same Peter Savill who declared before the 2,000 Guineas that, should Celtic Swing win the first Classic, an attempt on the Triple Crown was not an option, but rather a duty. Despite Celtic Swing's narrow defeat at Newmarket, it is hard to believe that an owner with such respect and affection for the British turf could abandon the original Derby in favour of its pale French imitation.

The conclusion must be that Celtic Swing will contest the Derby at Epsom. And he should win it, too. His defeat in the Guineas is excused by the inadequate trip and his misfortune in effectively setting up the race for the speedy Pennekamp. Over an extra four furlongs, Celtic Swing must have every chance of reversing the form (and he would have done so at Newmarket in a few more strides). Pennekamp, by contrast, is another whose approach suggests pace rather than stamina, while few courses could be less suited to his preference for coming with a late run than hilly, cambered Epsom.

Just how accurate this fantasy Derby is will become clear only on 10 June. One fact, though, is beyond dispute. If - when? - Celtic Swing is installed at Epsom, this morning's odds of 5-2 will be but the faintest of memories.

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