This is the story of one mans dream, John Neild, tells us his journey from the Streets of Liverpool to the Winners Enclosure at Cheltenham……… & Beyond
Growing up as boy on the streets of Norris Green, a truly working class suburb of Liverpool, we had two passions, football and racing.
Quickly realising I was not going to be the next Kenny Dalglish, I only had eyes on one thing, being a jockey.
Ever since I first saw Red Rum coming round that elbow ‘like a fresh horse’, it was all I could think of.
I was the right size, weight (yes really!) and I promised my Mum that one day I would walk down our road a GRAND NATIONAL winner.
I did make it as far as working at a racing yard, albeit briefly, when the then John Oaksey, got me a place with Henry Candy.
Mr Candy was very decent and noble but soon made it clear that he felt he had more chance of riding a National winner than I did..
I cried all the way home…by the time I saw my Mum at Lime Street Station I must have looked like a 7 stone red eyed baby panda.
So back in the ‘Pool’ I was, tail stuck firmly between my skinny legs…I did get out of Liverpool, in fact quite a lot, but the dream never left me, I would just have to try and find a different way of achieving it.
The next 20 years saw me in the USA, London, China…in fact just about the 4 corners of this planet.
I had been successful (not skint), a failure (very skint)…more than once. First in the music business and then the renewable energy field, not exactly a conventional route through life and business but I was still alive and kicking… and still dreaming.
So, once there was enough money in the pot, that we could afford to throw down a pit, I had to try get that dream back on track…
Off I went with my ‘racing manager’(great job considering I owned no horses) Pistol Pete, to Nigel Twiston Davies yard on a freezing cold February morning in 2012.
The duffle coat in the distance was frostier than the ground beneath my feet (more of him later) but Carl Llewellyn showed us around, I fell in love with the place.
“Right Carl, I’ve got 20 grand, I’m going to buy a horse and all I want to do is win the National…” Carl, quite rightly, didn’t say a word but did send us down to The Hollow Bottom for some breakfast. Here, my friends, is where the deal was well and truly closed. Basically, it’s the pub I had been dreaming of all my life. Beer, Food and Racing…I was in love!!!
So come May of that year, the horse was bought and we named him SPLASH OF GINGE…off to Nigels he went, he was broken in and I just sat and waited to get the phone call that he was scorching up the gallops. The call came, and there was bad and good news…Bad news, he was the slowest horse they think they had ever had on their gallops BUT the good news, the only other horse they had which could compare ‘snail pace’ wise was Earth Summit (1998 Grand National Winner).
Well, he wasn’t quite as slow as everyone thought. GINGE made slow progress in bumpers before really showing ability in a maiden hurdle at Chepstow splitting a couple of horses rated in the 130 bracket.
A disappointing run at Carlisle followed before we achieved one part of my dream, yes, MY horse was entered to run at Aintree.
Okay, not the National but I didn’t care. I was mob handed, I was ready and all the horse had to do was deliver.
He did, by 20 beautiful Aintree lengths. As I watched him easing down close to the line with Sam Twiston Davies tapping him playfully down the neck, I felt in total dreamland and honestly thought that day could never be beaten. I sat and watched the DVD on repeat all that night with bottle of wine in hand..THANK YOU GINGE!
What’s followed since has been well documented. The ‘slowest’ horse went on to win the Betfair Hurdle that season and came 2nd in the Grade 1 Mersey Novices Hurdle on Grand National day, I was getting closer folks!
The next season he went novice chasing and won twice at Cheltenham (yes THE Cheltenham) including the prestigious New Years Day big handicap.
He hasn’t won since but he’s still racing and loving life, I have every faith he will do it again. He has given us everything and owes me nothing!
This journey has been made all the more special by the people who have joined the ‘Ginge Army’ along the way.
The laughter, the tears, the hangovers (thanks Hugh and Charlie at The Hollow Bottom) have given me memories that no one can ever take away.
My advice to anyone getting into racehorse ownership. Find a trainer you can trust, ideally one who feels the ups and downs even more than you do.
Nigel is quite possible the most honest, caring and downright stubborn person I’ve ever met in my life.
We were lucky to have ever sent our horse to him, I think he would be healthier if we had never came along but deep down, I know he loves us to.
Nigel and Carl have gone on to be two of my best friends. Strangely, that doesn’t always show itself when we win, but more in the quiet moments when you lose.
We got more horses coming through at Nigels, but to be honest if they come close to what we’ve achieved with this one, I will be the luckiest owner ever.
Now, back to the dream…
Till the day I lose my last bet, and I trundle off to the big bookies in the sky, I will never EVER stop trying to win the National.
It drives me on every day and it’s still what I dream of every night.
My Mum has long gone, sadly, but I know she believes me (and you should to).. I will walk down OUR road a GRAND NATIONAL winner.
You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one…. IMAGINE that!!!