Golan aims for the heights
it is a long way, figuratively if not literally, from Ludlow in October to Cheltenham in March but every journey has to start with a single step and the rookie chaser Golan Way was particularly assured at the Shropshire track yesterday.
The six-year-old put his rivals to the sword as he tackled his first set of fences with the swagger of a seasoned gazelle and his trainer, Sheena West, can legitimately start dreaming of glory in the most glittering of arenas.
For the past two campaigns Golan Way has proved himself a very smart hurdler.
And though talent does not always transfer from the smaller to the larger obstacles, in this case it clearly has; the front-running gelding jumped with zest and accuracy before cominig home 29 lengths clear.
West, based at Lewes in Sussex, may be one of the game's smaller operators, albeit an upwardly-mobile one.
But she is not fighting shy of making big plans for her stable star, whom she spotted for just £13,000 at auction as a cast-off from the Flat.
“The Feltham Chase on Boxing Day at Kempton would be a race that would suit him down to the ground,” she said.
“My instinct would be that his trip would be a sharp three miles or a testing two and a half.”
As if on cue, the authorities at Cheltenham announced yesterday that a two and a half-mile novices' chase is to be added to the 2011 Festival meeting.
The new Grade 2 prize, to be sponsored by Jewson, will either (depending on your point of view) fill the gap between the two-mile Arkle Trophy and the three-mile RSA Chase, or water down the two long-established Grade 1 contests.
The number of races at next year's meeting is up to 27, but prize money, a total £3.38 million, is £100,000 down, a function of Levy Bard cuts.
The senior championship contests' value will remain constant; the Gold Cup, for instance, will be worth £475,000.
Golan Way will further his education at least once before he tackles better company, though likely at a more challenging venue than yesterday's, where the fences are not the stiffest.
“We wouldn't want to be running at somewhere like this too often,” said West, “as the fences are that bit soft and you wouldn't want to teach him to take liberties. He probably wants a bit more to look at in the future, but he's always been a good jumper.
“We've always schooled him over fences, ever since we had him as a four-year-old; in fact the only time he's actually seen a hurdle over the last couple of years has been on the racecourse.”
That Golan Way's technique through the air was so good should be no surprise; West's background includes show-jumping and eventing as well as point-to-pointing and racing. As the yard's flagbearer – and every small operation needs one – the bright bay's future will be carefully nurtured.
“It might have looked easy today,” she said, “but he is the sort of horse who puts a lot into everything he does, even at home. With his attitude every day is a hard day, so he won't be running again any time very soon.”
Nor will top-class Flat stayer Sans Frontieres, who was yesterday ruled out of next month's Melbourne Cup.
The four-year-old, trained in Newmarket by Jeremy Noseda, had been the Northern Hemisphere's leading contender for the Flemington showpiece since his Irish St Leger victory last month, and had actually been in quarantine ahead of his journey.
But an attack of muscular cramps on Tuesday night put paid to the Australian venture.
“He'll be ok in due course. But you couldn't risk sending a horse on a plane for 28 hours with this hanging over him,” said owner Sir Robert Ogden's racing manager, Barry Simpson, yesterday.