Racing: Taylor ready to slip quietly into National consciousness

Gingembre boasts the right credentials to land Saturday's Aintree showpiece for novice trainer once known as 'the galloping nanny'

By Richard Edmondson
Friday 10 January 2014 05:47

Should Gingembre win the Grand National at Aintree on Saturday, John and Lavinia Taylor, the couple behind the fancied chestnut, promise not to go wild. Visitors will be allowed on to their premises in Upper Lambourn and champagne will be provided. John and Lavinia, however, will probably not be there.

"We will almost certainly be hiding," Lavinia says. "We don't even think about winning a Grand National and there won't be any wild parties in Liverpool, never mind here."

This would not be the Taylor way. Little is. If Henrietta Knight and Terry Biddlecombe thought they had the field of English eccentricity to themselves, then the banging gate of the Taylors will disabuse them.

They first met at Roddy Armytage's yard at East Ilsley. John was the trainer's solicitor, Lavinia his dogsbody, a woman who rode work and also looked after Armytage's children, Gee and the subsequent Grand National-winning jockey Marcus.

Lavinia herself first got a taste of the Aintree mountains in 1989 when she rode in the Fox Hunters' on Galileo, before horses called Galileo started to win big races. Marcus was in the same race and Richard Pitman employed the full range of his Wildean humour to refer to Galileo's jockey as "the galloping nanny".

"It was a fantastic day," Lavinia remembers. "He was in the first two or three until the Canal Turn. Then the more fancied contenders went past. I finished eighth and I looked back at the end to see who had finished behind. There wasn't anyone there."

Fourteen years has passed but much has happened in the interim. The Taylors have returned from Ireland and, before that, the Antipodes and a sparsely populated part of Western Australia called Mukinbudin, where they kept 5,000 pigs in order. When they came home there was a pearl after the swine in the shape of Domaine de Pron, a horse purchased from France, who won the Eider Chase in 1998 but dropped dead before they could get the garland round his neck. That, they thought, was their shot. "After him we never thought we'd get another good one again," Lavinia says. "As it happens, we've got one that's even better."

This is the famous Gingembre, the French for Ginger. It is not a bad start, 30 years after Red Rum beat Crisp in one of the most celebrated of Nationals. His trainer was Donald McCain and he established that Ginger was not a bad name for a Liverpool winner.

By great coincidence, the Taylors are now in residence at the mighty Uplands, the former base of Crisp's trainer, Fred Winter. Gingembre now rolls around on shredded paper in the same box which the American horse Jay Trump used before his National victory for Winter in 1965. Anglo retained the prize for the yard the following year.

"We still can't really believe we're at Uplands," Lavinia says. "We're very much loners in that we love living away from everyone else, doing our own thing. It's quite a culture shock coming here and being almost in the village."

The Taylors are perhaps the only people in Upper Lambourn who may believe their village is twinned with the Bronx. Inner cities are not really their style. "We don't mix with people in the village and that's not because we're snobby, rather we're not social animals," John says.

"At first, we'd be riding in the village and people would ask us if our horses were hunters or eventers," Lavinia adds. "It wasn't until we won the Scottish National that we weren't a joke I think and there are those who still look askance at us. But we don't take ourselves seriously anyway."

Gingembre, in the wake of his Ayr victory, has to be treated with the greatest respect. The nine-year-old dirty chestnut has form to die for, a proven aptitude for flat, left-handed courses. "Liverpool should suit," Lavinia concedes. "If he can get over the first fence. That could be a problem. He is such a show-off that he might imagine that everyone has come to Liverpool to watch him and stand off a stride too soon.

"But he's a different horse on fast ground. The fact that he's been second in two Hennessys on soft and heavy is a bonus because on that ground he's got just the one pace, but, on fast ground, he can find another gear at the end of the race.

"He hasn't had an A1 scope or blood test for the whole of this season until a fortnight ago. When you ride him now he's squealing and he goose-steps like a German soldier. When he's really well before a race he'll goose-step in the paddock. But that doesn't get him over the blinking first fence. With this horse, I worry about every race, so the Grand National will not be anything different."

The Taylors, though, are anything but normal. They are not striking examples of the underprivileged, but they have not used their backgrounds badly. For them, each day is something to be filled. Lavinia can ride out up to three lots, John does all the business work. Mucking out and errands are shared. It is bad territory for bob-a-job week scouts.

"We're used to getting stuck in," John says. "Lavinia is not a professional as such, but she trains the horses professionally."

The owners of the majestic Uplands will share a vehicle to Merseyside, starting at 6.00am, on Saturday. It will be a horsebox and Gingembre will be the passenger. He may be a unique horse late in the afternoon. His connections will remain unique to this country, win, lose or fall.

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