California dreaming

Sue Montgomery meets the trainer happy to be taking an American gamble; The Arc could be a successful swansong for a leading light of the Godolphin operation who has decided to go it alone
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SHOULD either Lammtarra or Balanchine win this afternoon's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe for Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin operation, future students of horse-racing will not know who trained the horse. Oh, sure, Saeed Bin Suroor will be the name in the record books. But the man who really did it is Jeremy Noseda.

The Godolphin phenomenon has been well documented. The Sheikh's policy of wintering his best horses in Dubai and campaigning the group from Newmarket has met with outstanding success. There have been top- level wins from Lammtarra, Moonshell, So Factual, Classic Cliche, Vettori and Flagbird.

Though the Sheikh has always stressed that Godolphin is a team, it is important for Dubai's crown prince to have one of his countrymen - first Hilal Ibrahim, now Bin Suroor - as a figurehead.

Noseda has remained tactfully anonymous as the Godolphin bandwagon has rolled on, but the frustration of being at the sharp end yet rarely having public credit for his achievements seems finally to have got to him. The honeymoon is over: the Arc will be Noseda's swansong in Europe, for after Halling tackles the Breeders' Cup races in New York next month, the ambitious 32-year-old is off to California to set up on his own.

Noseda, a Londoner, does not come from a typical racing background. His early years were spent in a council flat and he was 12 before he saw his first live race, the 1975 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. That epic struggle between Grundy and Bustino fired his ambition; he knew he would be too heavy to make a jockey, so he set his sights on training.

"I loved horse-racing, but I had never been around horses and knew nothing about them," he said. "I went to learn to ride in the holidays, and then spent other summers with Brian Swift and Jeremy Tree."

After his A-levels Noseda turned down five university places and set about finding a job in racing. "I had no connections, so I wrote to 30 trainers. John Dunlop was one of only two who bothered to reply."

Noseda joined the master of Arundel as a pupil-assistant and stayed for four years. When John Gosden was head-hunted from America by the Sheikh seven years ago, Noseda, who had spent several winters with him in California, joined as assistant at Stanley House, and moved to the Sheikh's then-embryonic Al Quoz stable in Dubai in 1993. He said: "I am lucky to have been given opportunities by two great trainers and gentlemen. I didn't know a lot and had nothing to offer, except perhaps enthusiasm and the desire to learn."

Noseda is also full of praise for the driving force behind the Godolphin concept. "I had no real idea what I was stepping into," he said. "Everything - the feeding, the veterinary help, the training facilities, the staff - was absolutely the best of the best. It wasn't just a plaything. The team, from Sheikh Mohammed down, is utterly professional."

If there is a magic formula involved, Noseda puts it down to hard work and attention to detail. "Yes, we have nice horses. But one of our advantages is that with only 40 we are able to leave no stone unturned in trying to bring out the maximum potential in each individual."

Equine athletes generally are what they eat, and the Godolphin have their grub shipped in from the Sheikh's own feed mill in Dubai. Balanchine, for instance, prefers a special sort of oat with the husk stripped off mixed in with her muesli of molasses, barley and wheat. "She will eat ordinary oats, but she doesn't really like them. But by giving her the naked oats we can get 15lb of feed a day into her instead of 7lb. It's things like that make the difference."

Although the Sheikh has promised him horses in California, Noseda is aware that life will not be easy from now. "I was always going to leave Godolphin eventually, though it will be a wrench to leave such a successful team," he said. "Balanchine's Irish Derby last year and Lammtarra's King George in July were the two best days of my life. Setting myself up as a public trainer is a gamble, but with luck and support it should work out. If it doesn't, the decision was mine. It's time to be my own man."

It was Noseda's decision to opt for independence in California rather than comply with the Sheikh's earlier offer of a yard in Chantilly. "It's a place I know and though I love British racing it will be easier for someone like me, without enormous wealth, to get started there."

Noseda may have inherited his drive from his father, a self-made property man who progressed enough in life to move from south London to St John's Wood and send his only son to public school. Twenty years ago, watching Grundy being unsaddled at Ascot, Noseda promised his mother that one day he would train a King George winner and give her his trophy. He knows he has achieved the first ambition; it must hurt a little that he was unable to fulfil the second because the prize goes to the man with his name on the racecard.