Making a splash
As a schoolboy John Neild and his friends used to play football on Aintree Racecourse. Now a successful businessman and owner of the racehorse ‘Splash of Ginge’, John talks to Your Move about his lifelong love affair with racing, his ill fated attempts to become a jockey and his dreams of winning the Grand National.
Interview by Lawrence Saunders
How did you first get into racing?
My interest in racing started with my nan and dad – the typical Liverpool story of picking horses on a Saturday afternoon and trying to win thousands!
When I was a very young lad I got into riding myself, I went to ride out for a trainer called Henry Candy during the summer holidays and obviously he told me I wasn’t good enough, which was very nice of him. I suppose I thought the next best thing if you can’t be a jockey is to own a horse. I went away and made my way in life – worked harder and harder until I had enough spare money that I could tell the wife I was going to waste it on a horse. That’s what I did, so it’s really come from a lifelong interest in racing.
Your son Jamie is now riding horses himself. how did you feel when he decided to go down that route?
He’d never ridden a horse until he was 19 – I used to struggle to get him to pat our horse never mind ride it! But he applied to The British Racing School in Newmarket, which I couldn’t believe. I thought he would be home in 24 hours to be honest, especially as he was more used to getting up at 4.30 in the afternoon rather than 4.30 in the morning, but he loved it and now he’s working for trainer Andrew Balding (Clare Balding’s brother) not far from Newbury.
“ I want to win the Grand National to show that, especially coming from Liverpool, anyone can do it. ”
How did you end up owning Splash of Ginge?
We bought him at Doncaster Bloodstock Sales. He was unbroken, nobody had ever sat on him, he was unnamed – all he’d done was run round a field. But he was very well related; his mother is a sister to a horse called See More Business (1999 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner) so he is very well bred but he just didn’t look as good as the rest of them. We managed to steal him for £20,000 and luckily for us the ugly ducking turned into a swan. His third place finish on his last run has taken his earnings through £180,000 and anytime in racing that you’re spending less than you’re bringing in is brilliant.
How did you come up with the name?
We had the name even before we bought him. It’s about my dad, his nickname was ‘ginge’ and I had a dream that I owned a horse called ‘splasher’, so I just put the two together.
My dad’s still alive and it’s all part of the dream of letting my dad enjoy the horse.
How often do you get to see the horse?
Well I’m back and forth quite a bit from Spain – my wife thinks I’m having an affair with Nigel [Twiston-Davies, trainer of Splash of Ginge] because every time I get a spare night off I whizz down there rather than going to see her. That’s part of the joy of it though.
I know it might sound a little bit corny but to get up at six o’clock in the morning and go down to those gallops in the middle of the beautiful Cotswolds and to see your horse coming up that hill – it’s a beautiful feeling. That’s actually just as much fun as going the races and I’ve never quite understood why owners don’t do it more.
Why do you think there is such a lack of racing trainers, owners and jockeys based here on Merseyside?
I think there is a massive north/south divide in racing in general. A lot of the northern trainers are struggling but I do think it’s starting to change. Two lads from Liverpool who went to the racing school are at Nigel’s and there’s obviously my lad. I think what you want from those lads is a breakthrough where when they stop riding they move into training. Having trainers is where it will come around more because jockeys will always move away and go where the money is.
Since I started, 99.9% of people have been lovely and very complementary about the horse but you still do get people who think that we shouldn’t be there. I think this is because to them you’re working class and as they see it you are ‘new money’. But that doesn’t just exist in racing – that’s in life.
“ I went away and made my way in life until I had enough spare money that I could tell the wife I was going to waste it on a horse. ”
Splash of Ginge has gained quite a following, particularly on social media, with #Gingearmy used on Twitter a lot. This kind of support for a racehorse is relatively uncommon so where did it all come from?
The Ginge Army thing came about as a joke we used to have with my friends and family. I always say, ‘when he loses he’s mine and when he wins he belongs to everyone else’. That’s the way I want it to be, with everyone involved.
For me, in sport, at any level but especially at the top level, you need to show a little bit of emotion at times otherwise what’s the point in winning? I know sometimes I can come across as a bit of an idiot and just say whatever comes in to my head but I was talking to Clare Balding and the Channel Four Racing team and they think it’s really good that we do it like that.
You grew up near to Aintree Racecourse, what would it mean to you to win the Grand National one day?
I’m from Norris Green originally; I was actually born in a place called Sparrow Hall, which is L9 – the same postcode as Aintree. I went to school in Fazakerley at St Philomena’s. You could walk across the field at the back of our school, past the hospital and you were onto the course where we used to play football!
I’d love to stand there after winning it and say, ‘I’m retired – and so is the horse’ and just walk off! It’s 50/50 whether he will get in at the moment but it would mean everything if he did it.
I know it sounds corny but I want to win the Grand National to show that, especially coming from Liverpool, anyone can do it. If you work hard and give it a crack – anyone can do it.