If patience is a virtue, then down Lambourn way they will soon be canonising a new saint. Gingembre's owner-trainer Lavinia Taylor has had her stoicism thoroughly tested by her favourite horse, but on Saturday the 11-year-old, one of the most innately talented but physiologically challenged staying chasers of recent seasons, is scheduled to appear in public for the first time since the 2003 Grand National. His target is the Aon Chase at Newbury. "That is the plan," said Taylor yesterday, "but I've five more sleepless night before then."
The world of marathon chasing seemed at Gingembre's feet when he gave weight and a beating to Ad Hoc and Supreme Glory in the 2001 Scottish National. "It's hard to believe he's raced just four times since then," added Taylor. Before he pulled up on the second circuit at Aintree, two third places in Grade Two contests, to Marlborough in the Charlie Hall Chase and to Behrajan in the Pillar Property Chase, sandwiched his most famous victory, the one by default in the Hennessy, promoted after the technical disqualification of Be My Royal.
Gingembre is a walking (touch wood), breathing (ditto) example of the fact that the miracle, for a trainer, is not winning a race but getting a beast to the track. The chestnut was sidelined by a leg injury; breathing problems necessitated not one, but three rectifying operations on his airway; he is prone to lung infections and to muscle seizures known as setfast. His case notes could fill a chapter in Black's Veterinary Dictionary.
"He almost could have come back last season, but because he's a bit special to us we decided to give him all the time he needed," said Taylor. "Whether he's as good as he was must be open to question. But he seems in tremendous form. The last 10 days he's been happier in himself than for a long time, prancing and squealing. Well, perhaps not squealing, he tries to, but after his all his surgery it comes out as more of a squeak.
"We've had to work him quite hard to get him where he is, and we'll back off for a few days now. We wanted to start him off flat and left-handed, and if he's good enough to be competitive that would be wonderful."
Gingembre does not have Cheltenham on his agenda - another Scottish National will be his main target - but several of his potential rivals on Saturday most certainly do. They include the two latest Hennessy heroes, Strong Flow and Celestial Gold, and last year's Gold Cup runner-up Sir Rembrandt.
The three-miler will be the first race over fences for 14 months for Strong Flow, the Gold Cup third favourite. The eight-year-old suffered a knee injury when winning the 2003 Feltham Chase, the outing after his Newbury win, but showed he was back in business with an encouraging third over hurdles last month on his comeback. "He got a little cut," said trainer Paul Nicholls's assistant Dan Skelton, "but it was nothing serious. He is taking a lot of work and whatever happens on Saturday he'll come on a ton."
The horse splitting Strong Flow and Best Mate at the head of the betting, Sir Rembrandt's stablemate Kingscliff, will have one more public outing before the big day, but not on a racecourse. The former top hunter chaser will be out following hounds in Dorset tomorrow. "He enjoys his hunting and it keeps him fit, well and interested," said trainer Robert Alner.
Ireland's Beef Or Salmon rather slipped from favour in the market after his defeat at Leopardstown on Sunday, and is nursing a bout of the sniffles, but is expected to be back on parade on the gallops soon. "He's fine," said trainer Michael Hourigan. "I think he'll be back in work after the weekend." Connections of his conqueror, Rule Supreme, are still mulling options of the Gold Cup or World Hurdle.
If the Aon Chase is a heavyweight Gold Cup eliminator, the Game Spirit Chase an hour later could provide the same function for the Champion Chase. The reigning king, Azertyuiop, and the pretender, Well Chief, are among 10 entries. The pair were split by a short-head behind Moscow Flyer at Sandown in December. Well Chief, on a roll after his stunning Victor Chandler Chase win at Cheltenham, is odds-on in the to gain revenge on his rival, third in the King George VI Chase last time.
Nap: Game On
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