Magazine article The Spectator

Back in Business

Magazine article The Spectator

Back in Business

Article excerpt

Gingembre, former winner of both the Hennessy Gold Cup and the Scottish Grand National, is a natural show-off. He is a quality act and he knows it. Had he needed an alternative career, says his trainer Lavinia Taylor, male model would have suited. Stepping boldly round Newbury's parade ring on Saturday, gazing directly at the crowd and eyeballing his opposition, you could see that he was enjoying being back where he belongs. But it had been a long haul. It was the first time 'Ginger', as they know him back in the Uplands yard in Lambourn, had seen a racecourse in 679 days, since he was pulled up in the 2003 Grand National, the first time the brave chestnut had ever suffered that indignity. In between, Gingembre had suffered just about everything that can go wrong with a horse.

When regular rider Andy Thornton pulled up his mount that day at Aintree, he knew something was wrong. The horse coughed and it took them a quarter of an hour to get back to the stables, where his trainer was fearing the worst. They thought he might have broken a blood vessel, but scoping confirmed he had not. Then a soft-palate problem was diagnosed. Unfortunately, since Gingembre had also 'got a bit of a leg', with heat in a joint, they could not put him on a treadmill with a scope to confirm the diagnosis.

A year ago it seemed he had been nursed back to something approaching good health. His legs scanned fine before he started galloping again. But then there was another setback. And last autumn the breathing problem became more apparent. This time it was confirmed by galloping on a treadmill. Gingembre had two breathing operations last October, hobdaying and a 'tieback'. Towards the end of November, he started work again. But then, after just one serious gallop, he picked up a 'mucky lungs' infection which had affected most of the horses in the yard. 'We had to stop them all,' says Lavinia, 'and, being Ginger, he got it worst of all.'

But on Saturday at Newbury there he was, looking a picture and a walking testimony to the patience and care of a couple who train for love rather than for profit, about as far away from the racing cocktail circuit as you can get. To Lavinia, Ginger remains something very special. 'I love him and he loves me,' she declares. 'He has a top-class lad, but he doesn't kiss him on his nose. When I ride him, and I ride him quite a bit because I need to know how he's feeling, he prances and bucks because he knows I like him, though he can't squeak quite as well as he used to because of the wind operations.'

Saturday's big race, the Aon chase, was a potent reminder of how much of an achievement it is getting top steeplechasers to the course, let alone winning a race. …

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