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's 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 proved a very smart hurdler, and though talent does not always transfer from the smaller to the larger obstacles, in this case it clearly has. Given a breather by rider Jamie Goldstein after opening a wide lead on the first lap, Golan Way soon forged relentlessly ahead again to win by 29 lengths.
West, based at Lewes in Sussex, may be one of the game's smaller operators, 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 novice chase is to be added to the 2011 Festival meeting. The new Grade Two 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 One contests.
The number of races at next year's meeting is up to 27, but prize-money, a total £3.38m, is £100,000 down, a function of Levy Board 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; 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, the bright bay's future will be carefully nurtured. "It might have looked easy today," West said, "but he is the sort of horse who puts a lot into everything he does. With his attitude every day is a hard day, so he won't be running again any time very soon."
Nor will the 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. But an attack of muscular cramps on Tuesday night put paid to the Australian venture. "It was quite severe," said owner Sir Robert Ogden's racing manager, Barry Simpson, yesterday, "but 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."
Ogden, who has been better-known as a jumps owner with the likes of Voy Por Ustedes and Exotic Dancer, has been turning his firepower on the Flat lately and, as trading in top-grade yearlings continued in Newmarket, was one of the day's chief investors in the Tattersalls auction ring. Future bearers of the pink-and-white silks include a Galileo filly at 350,000 guineas and a Dansili colt for 325,000 guineas. Top spot yesterday, though, went to another daughter of Galileo, secured by the Coolmore team for 900,000 guineas.
Sue Montgomery's Nap
Azlaa (6.10 Wolverhampton) Has progressed through her three runs in maidens, most recently over a mile in what may prove smart company, and looks primed to make a winning handicap debut.
Zahoo (3.55 Newbury) Run out of things close to home over a mile and a half last month at Goodwood, her first run after a break, and will not only be fitter this time but better suited by the drop in trip.
One to watch
Bossy Kitty (N Tinkler) Seems to thrive at this time of the season and is now 7lb below her highest winning mark, achieved a year ago this week.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Petella (5.05 Newbury)