Ginge Army ready for Cheltenham battle
John Neild is hoping his ultra-tough Splash Of Ginge can out battle the big guns in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
The six-year-old is the first that the Liverpudlian has owned outright and showed real battling qualities when springing a 33/1 surprise in the ultra-competitive Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last time out.
However, the win came as no surprise to Neild who was told by trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies “if he doesn’t win, he will go very close”.
That success is the highlight so far in what has been a roller-coaster ride so far for Neild, who bought the horse for just £20,000.
The first obstacle that he had to overcome after purchasing the horse was getting it’s name approved by the British Horse Racing Authority.
He explained: “When I was a boy I used to play football on Aintree racecourse and had a dream that I won the Grand National with a horse named Splasher.
“I then thought what would go with that, and as everyone throughout generations of my family has ginger hair came up with Ginge.
“I then put the two together, and applied to the BHA for the horse to be named Splash Of Ginge.
“However, they said the name was inappropriate as Ginge rhymed with minge, and would also be offensive to ginger haired people.
“I emailed them back saying that if that was the case then why did they allow Hunt Ball to be named as such, as hunt rhymed with ….
“I also pointed out that virtually all his relatives had ginger hair and assured them that they would not be left traumatised by the name.
“The whole thing went on for weeks, but they eventually agreed to the name. I coudn’t believe it had caused so much fuss, and when I showed former jockey Carl Llewellyn the emails he was in tears and now has them framed on his wall.”
Neild bought the horse with the intention of winning the Grand National, having been born just a stone’s throw from Aintree racecourse in Norris Green.
He went to Nigel Twiston-Davies and bloodstock agent Anthony Bromley and told them he had £20K to spend and wanted a National horse.
“They said they would do their best, but I think they were secretly thinking I was mad given the amount involved,” said Neild.
“We then went to sales and got into a battle with some of the Irish lads. The bidding stood at 18K and was rising. I turned to Anthony and said ‘this isn’t looking good” and he immediately upped the bid to my max. I then held my breath and prayed and couldn’t believe it when the hammer fell and we had got him.”
Since then Neild has not looked back with the horse, who after winning at Aintree earlier in the season booked himself a ticket to the Supreme with his win in the Betfair Hurdle.
He puts the success down to Nigel Twiston-Davies and his team, and believes that it shows that you can live the dream for a relatively small amount and don’t need to be a millionaire.
Neild, who although the official owner classes Ginge as a “family owned horse” said: “Nigel is brilliant. He knows every horse as an individual and knows what is best for it.
“I can’t believe what he has done with our fella. They say there is a fine line between genius and madness, and I don’t think Nigel will mind me saying that he falls into that category and is a bit eccentric. However, he knows what is best for each horse in his care, and is the person who you can go to with a dream and he will do his utmost best to deliver it.”
Neild is relishing the trip to Cheltenham, where Splash Of Ginge is set to renew rivalry with market leader Iring who beat him earlier in the season at Ascot.
“Ginge didn’t jump well at all that day, and in the circumstances ran well to be beaten six lengths. The right hand track did not suit him and he is a different horse going left handed, “said Neild.
“Whether we can turn the tables on Irving, who knows. However, nobody has pointed out that Irving has yet to go left handed during his career on the flat and over jumps and has only won in small fields.
“One thing for sure is that our fella won’t go down without a fight. He always gives his best and has a heart of a lion.
“The plan will be to go out and try to gallop them into the ground. It will then be a case of how many can get past him, and hopefully come the winning line it won’t be any!”
The horse, who has now built up a huge and growing following known as the “Ginge Army”, will be ridden at Cheltenham by Sam Twiston-Davies and is 20/1 with Coral for the Supreme.
Neild is planning to party at The Hollow Bottom pub near Cheltenham whatever the outcome of the race, and his main wish is for the horse to come back safely.
“We partied for three days non-stop at The Hollow Bottom after his win in the Betfair, so god knows how long it will last if he wins the Supreme,” said Neild.
“Win or lose, we just want him to come back safely as we love horses. They are animals that give you days to remember and it’s important that those days are celebrated to the full.”