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Golden Buttons provide festive fun.

Byline: Mark Blackman

TWO years ago, I went to Chepstow on Welsh National day and, overcome by the infectious enthusiasm of one or two Racing Post colleagues, joined in the plunge on Jonjo O'Neill and JP McManus's World Wide Web.

With a big Christmas handicap win to his name already - he had landed Leopardstown's Paddy Power Handicap Chase two years earlier - this had all the hallmarks of a well orchestrated plot.

Well, if there was a plot, World Wide Web lost it. He ran an absolute stinker, getting behind in the early stages and paying no regard to his rider's repeated requests to try a bit harder. It was all over by halfway - pulled up.

"Too bad to be true and probably a bit too early in his career - he'll be back next year," was the coroner's verdict. As World Wide Web went on to finish a decent third at Exeter and then failed to finish at all in the Midlands National, I decided it was high time I sent my own jury out over this one - but vowed to keep an eye out for him when the Chepstow entries came out again.

As it was, World Wide Web disappeared completely off the radar - until, ironically, a little surfing of the net revealed his whereabouts.

World Wide Web did not run in the 2006 Welsh National, but he did run during that Christmas period - in the Golden Button Challenge. If you haven't heard of the race, log on to, and download the video of last year's inaugural running. You're in for a treat.

The Golden Button Challenge is a cross-country event staged over three miles, along the banks of the River Severn between the villages of Tirley and Forthampton, on New Year's Eve. It is an attempt to recreate the very essence and origins of steeple chasing, and competitors jump 27 natural obstacles, from hedges to ditches to timber, via muddy fields, bridlepaths and, from what I can tell from the illuminating helicopter shots of the race, people's back gardens. Up for grabs are seven Ledbury Hunt Golden Buttons, given in various different categories, including first past the post, first lady, first heavyweight and first non-thoroughbred.

Twelve months ago, the race was staged in conditions even Fiona Needham would have thought twice about (completely flooded), and that lent itself to some extraordinary footage. There's a bit of a pile-up at a water-filled ditch early in the race, but World Wide Web runs a stormer and looks booked for a place when coming a cropper at the last.

Some big names are being lined up for this year's renewal. Former Hennessy hero Gingembre has been leased by Lavinia Taylor for the occasion to carpenter Matthew Keen, while old friend World Wide Web is back for more, and the ride has been snapped up by none other than Eddie Ahern, who will be bidding to improve on his fifth in the event last year. Ahern takes over from 18-year-old James Ridley, the unfortunate pilot jettisoned at the last 12 months ago, and now sidelined by a broken ankle. Ridley's parents are now the owners of World Wide Web.

The word is, too, that Enda Bolger could be lining one up for it - which, considering his record in the top cross-country events, will send a shiver down the spine of the enthusiastic amateurs.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Dec 18, 2007
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