Epic Guineas heralds birth of great rivalry
THE bubble has finally burst. Celtic Swing finally fell victim to British racing's hype machine when suffering his first defeat in an epic 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket on Saturday but the remaining legs of the Triple Crown remain his objective this season.
The French-trained Pennekamp came with a brilliant finishing surge to destroy Celtic Swing's unbeaten record - but not his spirit - before a sweaty crowd of around 20,000 in unexpected heat-wave weather. Immediate impressions are often the best, and as the field swept past the post, there were signs that a special race between two outstanding horses had just taken place. For three or four tantalising seconds inside the two-furlong marker, hopes and dreams that the much-acclaimed Celtic Swing could maintain clear superiority over his generation looked likely to be realised as he sprinted to the front.
But as Peter Savill's colt drew two lengths clear of the chasing pack, the maroon and white silks worn by French champion Thierry Jarnet were soon conspicuous on the far side as Pennekamp hit top gear and put his ground-devouring stride to effect. The excited cheering of Celtic Swing fans was soon drowned by anxious cries from a crowd suddenly gripped by the realisation that a champion was about to be beaten.
Smoothly and confidently, Pennekamp drew alongside Celtic Swing as the two acknowledged outstanding colts on either side of the Channel settled down to slug it out all the way to the line in true championship style.
Initially, Pennekamp had the momentum to carry him to a lead of three-quarters of a length, but when they hit the rising ground, Celtic Swing started to rally and was pegging back his rival inch by inch all the way to the line. Only a head separated the pair after a tremendous duel.
Bahri, who had chased home Celtic Swing in the Greenham Stakes at Newbury, battled on well for third, two lengths away. Pipe Major ran a cracking race for fourth. Diffident, a stablemate of the winner, finished sixth, with Painter's Row seventh, in a race in which the pace was far from strong in the early stages. The time, however, was very good, with Pennekamp clocking one minute 35.16 seconds, only 0.8 seconds outside Mister Baileys' course record.
Pennekamp, sent off at 9-2 after opening at 7-2, was giving owner Sheikh Mohammed his first win in the Newmarket Classic, and now leaves Dubai's Crown Prince with the Derby at Epsom as the only British Classic to elude him. There is every likelihood that Pennekamp could be the one to provide him with that elusive success.
The colt is a son of Bering, the French Derby winner, and the widely-held belief is that he will become even more effective over middle-distances. Andre Fabre, achieving his fourth British Classic triumph, held the view that Pennekamp and Celtic Swing had been engaged in a contest that will go down in the history books as a running of the 2,000 Guineas to rank alongside Brigadier Gerard's defeat of Mill Reef in 1971 and El Gran Senor's victory over Chief Singer in 1984.
'Personally, I think Pennekamp is an exceptional horse, and that he has beaten another very good horse,' said Fabre, with just the flicker of a smile.
This is the first leg in his three-year-old career, and I am hoping now that he will go on to win the Derby and then proves able to beat the older horses later in the season,' he added. Bookmakers William Hill are betting 9-4 on both Pennekamp and Celtic Swing for the Vodafone Derby on June 10, and Fabre was looking forward to the re-match: 'That's why I love racing in Britain so much.' The disappointment in the Celtic Swing corner was plain to see, but there was no sign of despondency, especially as the Derby, the St Leger and other rich races are beckoning, providing the colt has taken no harm from what could amount to an outstanding effort. Owner Savill, in congratulating the winner, was confident Celtic Swing remained very much a champion: 'Mill Reef was second, so we won't give up yet.
I'd rather be in the winner's enclosure, but if we had a choice, I'd rather it was the Derby than the Guineas. Hopefully it will be an Alydar-Affirmed battle with Pennekamp throughout the season.'