An exhibitionist tackles Aintree
One obstacle above all occupies the mind of Lavinia Taylor as she prepares to send Gingembre to Aintree for Saturday’s Grand National.
It is not Becher’s Brook, Valentine’s or even The Chair. She can worry about those when Gingembre gets to them.
Or rather, if he gets to them.
It is the first of the 30 towering fir fences that is Taylor’s current preoccupation, because she knows her horse, and how he is likely to react to the buzz and adrenalin rush of the early charge across the Melling Road.
The nine-year-old Gingembre has never faced a National fence before, so he does not know about the drop on the other side. ‘He’s a big show-off,” Taylor says. ‘He’ll think everyone’s gone to Liverpool just to watch him, and when he gets to the first, he’ll stand off a stride too soon to show everyone what a clever jumper he is, and he’ll knuckle over on landing.”
It is an outcome that is currently running on a loop in Taylor’s mind, so much so that Gingembre has been back to school to prepare him for the unique challenge of Aintree.
‘All the schooling we’re doing now is to try to get him to get in close to his fences and pop over them, rather than put in extravagant leaps,” Taylor says.
But at the same time, she knows that Gingembre’s self-confidence and xhibitionism are what drew her to him. ‘We have a bloodstock agent in France who buys most of Martin Pipe’s horses,” Taylor explains.
‘He told us about one he’d found in a riding school south of Paris. When we went to see him he just had that look about him, that he knows he’s a champ and he’s superior to everyone else.”
Gingembre has twice finished second in the Hennessy Gold Cup, and will soon be promoted to first place in this year’s event when Be My Royal, whose post-race test was positive for morphine, is disqualified.
He has since been raised 2,7kg in the weights and will carry at least 73kg on Saturday, but Taylor insists he has improved significantly since November. ‘He’s better now than he’s been all season,” she says.
‘He was never quite right in the first half of the season, and he certainly wasn’t as well as he is now. His blood tests have never been quite right, and before Christmas he had a chronic lung infection.
‘Then he had a copper deficiency, and he didn’t really come right until the end of February — which was just too late to get him right for the Gold Cup.”
Missing Cheltenham may turn out to be a blessing, though, as Gingembre is a horse who goes well fresh and has a distinct preference for flat tracks such as Liverpool rather than the undulations of Cheltenham. If he can get over the first and find a good rhythm, this 11-1 shot has the cruising speed and stamina to test any runner in the field.
Yet victory on Saturday would make little long-term difference to Taylor’s small-scale training operation. She rents 20 boxes in the bottom yard of the famous Uplands stable in Lambourne, but even those are never completely full.
‘I would hate to have too many horses,” she says. ‘I’d never want more than 10 or 12, because I don’t know enough of what’s going on. Obviously one would never turn down a top horse, but we’re not advertising for more.”
Instead, she and her husband John — who describes himself as ‘the logistics person” — prefer to keep things simple. John’s duties on Saturday will include driving the horsebox to Aintree, while there are no plans yet for a party that evening.
‘I’m a natural pessimist, and it’s better to be like that,” Taylor says, ‘because the best thing about this business is the planning and the looking forward, and what happens on the day doesn’t often live up to your hopes. I’ve got everything planned up to Saturday morning — after that, I’m not thinking any further than the first.” —