28 July 2002
Gallant colt lands a stirring King George victory just days after the death of his owner/breeder
Sometimes it is written in the sky. Golan, owned and bred by Lord Weinstock who died this week, held on heroically from Nayef to land as fine a horse race as you could wish to see. Four-legged tributes have never come better, nor more bitter sweet than this one.
Back in 1951 the very first King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes was run to commemorate the Festival of Britain. The late King died next year but his daughter has been a constant presence since, winning the race herself with Aureole in 1954, handing the trophy to Lord Weinstock for Troy in 1979, for Ela-Mana-Mou a year later, and now, in her Golden Jubilee year, here she was talking animatedly to Weinstock’s long-time racing manager Peter Reynolds about the old sage with whom she had lunched the day Golan won the 2,000 Guineas last year.
Weinstock was about long term wisdom, as the short term fools who ruined what he had built up at GEC are rueing to this day. It was the long term view that so attracted him to bloodstock breeding, which he entered when he and his father-in-law Michael Sobell bought the Ballymacoll Stud, in County Meath, Ireland, in 1960. It was what would have so attracted him to yesterday’s feat of training genius which saw Michael Stoute produce Golan to become the first horse ever to win the `King George’ first time out for the season.
Michael Stoute has done many great things, has five times been champion trainer and has won the King George with Shergar and Opera House. He has built a team and a method which handles all horses and ages alike. But his absolute mastery has been with the developing of the mature runner, of taking the four-year-old and improving him from his Classic season. Last year, Golan won the Guineas and was placed in the Arc and both the English and Irish Derbies. But Stoute said he could be better. Yesterday was proof in the ultimate.
The signs were there in the saddling box. Golan was so primed up that he tried to kick the wall down. Stoute and his long-time aide Jimmy Scott took the colt out to have his girths tied in the open air. Golan is not a huge horse but in the Ascot sunshine you could see that every ounce was solid muscle.
Already circling was Godolphin’s hot favourite and hot-tempered Grandera, whose kicking had a sight more aim and edge to it than Golan’s early attempt at the wall. Grandera had a magnificent-looking pacemaker in Narrative, the long and lean Nayef had Sir Effendi, but taking on both would be hard-as-iron Zindabad, whose motto is “they shall not pass.”
For a while, star French filly Aquarelliste appeared to be adopting the watchword `pas aujourdhui’, mulishly refusing to leave the saddling area for the competition up ahead. By dint of admirable patience and firm persuasion, `madame’ was induced to co-operate and even entered the starting stalls without much fuss.
She ran a great race too, having a smooth run round the inside before being a bit blocked making her effort in the straight and struggling on well to be fourth just behind Zindabad. But she was only a footnote to this history.
Golan was to be its hero but in Nayef he would have a rival worthy of his mettle, the much-hyped Grandera having an off day which Frankie Dettori blamed on ground being over-watered, a slightly sour grapes comment considering Godolphin had been the chief advocates of watering on behalf of the now-withdrawn Sakhee.
Never mind the gripes. When Zindabad led Nayef off the final bend with Kieren Fallon searching for a split from the back, you knew that the old race could still make the blood run. Nayef is a great sight in full gallop, tall and long and flowing in his stride. Golan is a sharper-footed specimen.
Nayef set sail first. Golan needed to find some luck. Alongside the inside Fallon found it.
Zindabad was fully stretched and to his left another gap appeared for which Golan went and Nayef tried to close. Golan’s mile-winning acceleration grabbed the space and then coursed down on Nayef to edge ahead 200 yards out. “When I saw it was Golan,” said Nayef’s rider Richard Hills afterwards, “I thought that, first time out, he might weaken. But my horse was tired and rolled across to him. He was just too good.”
And too determined. “Always before,” said Fallon, “when he has got to the front he has idled with me. But today was different. For the first time he really wanted it. Sir Michael has done this sort of thing before. It’s a gift he has. Lord Weinstock was a lovely man and everybody enjoyed his company. You wonder if he was looking down, because the horse had never stuck his head out like he did today.”
The clock confirmed the weariness of this finish. The final two furlongs being run in 13.58 and 14.20 seconds, a full three-quarters of a second slower than Galileo took last year. For a moment in the unsaddling enclosure, Golan’s attendants looked concerned. The horse needed water. He had been to the edge. A horse can do no more than that.