'I couldn't breathe or talk but still tipped a big winner'

'I won £7,000 betting on horses even though I was in a coma' - Sport Scan/Trevor Jacobs
'I won £7,000 betting on horses even though I was in a coma' - Sport Scan/Trevor Jacobs

When Trevor Jacobs, part-owner of Champion Chase hope Editeur Du Gite, recently won a four-figure sum on a bet his celebration was more muted than it normally would be. He was, after all, hooked up to a ventilator in an intensive care unit.

In July, Jacobs, whose horse is 6-1 for Wednesday’s race at Cheltenham, was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome and has been in hospital ever since.

Within 24 hours of his admission, after paralysing his legs and arms the disease had reached his lungs. The 68-year-old was placed on a ventilator and, for a month, in an induced coma, during which his heart stopped twice.

Gambling has had a bad rap lately but his weekly tonic during the ordeal has been ITV racing on a Saturday and a few bets placed through his son, Ryan. Might it not be yours confined to the same room, same bed for nearly nine months?

On the Saturday in question Jacobs collected £7,000 from a £150 trixie (four different bets on three horses). All the alarms on the machines keeping him going began going off.

“The consultant came in and said, ‘I can’t believe what I’m seeing. You can’t move and you can’t breathe or talk and you’ve just won £7,000’,” Jacobs tells Telegraph Sport from his hospital bed in Portsmouth. “Now they all want to know what the tips are. Unfortunately it doesn’t happen every Saturday.”

While the doctors, nurses and machines in the critical care unit have kept Jacobs alive physically, it is Editeur Du Gite, the Gary Moore-trained nine-year-old, that has provided a medicine for the mind.

GBS is something of a mystery condition in the medical world - all doctors are taught about it but the majority will go through a whole career without encountering it.

An auto-immune disease, it is commonly triggered by a stomach bug or a vaccine. The reaction so razzes up the immune system it strips the nerves of their myelin outer coating. The best analogy is if you were to remove the plastic outer casing of an electric wire - do that and it does not conduct electricity efficiently. It is the same with nerves.

Jacobs, a fit, hands-on grafter who started as a bricklayer but now runs several building and construction firms based on the south coast, had been using a personal trainer for 10 years, played golf, has been a member of the Royal Ascot Racing Club for 20 years and religiously did “dry January” - “I’ll have a few in the bank after this,” he jokes.

He returned from a golfing trip to Bruges on a Friday. At the time his wife Mary was in Istanbul on a cruise. But in the early hours of Saturday morning his legs went weak. “Then one of them started doing the hokey cokey on its own,” he recalls. “I crawled down stairs, rang my son Ryan and that’s when it started going pear-shaped.”

Notoriously difficult to diagnose, all his tests and scans were clear and medical staff thought it might even be polio while Jacobs continued to get worse.

After his legs, his arms packed up but the real problem with GBS is when it gets to your lungs and, 20 minutes after Mary arrived off a flight from Turkey, he was put in a coma.

I first came into contact with Jacobs because I once had GBS and wanted to show him there was life after it. I felt a bit of a fraud as mine was mild, 3/10 according to the doctor, and I walked out of hospital after five days. A 10/10 kills you but by my reckoning Jacobs, who must have the constitution of an ox, has had it 12/10.

“I was so fit the day before,” he explains, now able to talk again after eight months having to mouth words to visitors to be understood.

“It was like throwing a hand grenade in the body. I’m lucky I’m still going. When I woke up they had to open my eyelids for me and for ‘yes’ I had to turn my head to the left, and ‘no’ to the right. I’m gradually being weaned off the ventilator and am up to eight hours breathing on my own every other day. I’ve got to get that up to three days in a row before they’ll let me out. It’s baby steps – I’ll probably be here another three months.

“I never see the improvement but if someone doesn’t see me for a few weeks they notice it and that’s encouraging, but I wake up some mornings and it breaks my heart.”

To remind him of the progress he has made, on the wall in front of him is a list of milestones written on a whiteboard by the nurses starting with day one: “July 9 no movement anywhere.” It is a collection of small victories. On Jan 10 it says: “6 mins breathing on own.”

There is, however, no mention of the two biggest victories during his time in hospital, Editeur Du Gite’s win in the Desert Orchid at Kempton on Dec 27 and the Grade One Clarence House Chase, rescheduled to Cheltenham on Jan 28, where the front-running French-bred gelding beat Edwardstone and Energumene, the two horses ahead of him in the betting for Wednesday’s race.

Niall Houlihan riding Editeur Du Gite to the Clarence House Chase in January - 'I won £7,000 betting on horses even though I was in a coma' - Getty Images/Alan Crowhurst
Niall Houlihan riding Editeur Du Gite to the Clarence House Chase in January - 'I won £7,000 betting on horses even though I was in a coma' - Getty Images/Alan Crowhurst

Jacobs has had horses a long time, first with Epsom trainer Terry Mills, then with his son Robert and when he packed up he joined Gary Moore. More of a Flat man than jumps, he also has a half share in two horses with Eve Johnson Houghton.

“Gary’s good as gold,” he says. “What you see is what you get. Salt of the earth. Hard working. He’s been in a few times. He drives down, blags his way in, gives a false name. He’s very spur of the moment, he doesn’t think of ringing but he’s had experience of people on ventilators with his son Josh.

“I’ve always had shares in two or three horses with Gary and in November 2019 he asked me if I wanted a leg in a French horse he was bringing over. It took a year for him to come into himself and in the last two years he’s just improved.

“When he won at Kempton all the machines started buzzing and all the consultants came running. Cheltenham? B----- hell, I thought Edwardstone was going to get there but it was the same when the loose horse [also Edwardstone] came upsides him at Kempton – he won’t let them pass.”

His stoical wife Mary goes in to see him every day and, after he lost 3st, has taken to cooking his supper, but he has insisted she goes to Cheltenham with Ryan and his brother Daniel on Wednesday. He will watch with a couple of mates and, I dare say, a couple of nurses if they know what’s good for them.

“If he wins you’re coming to interview me again, although I don’t presume anything,” he says. “But I can’t wait until Wednesday.”