I’ve fancied Character Building to win the great race for a few weeks now, but I was keeping stakes low whilst John Quinn kept us all guessing about who would ride his classy grey staying chaser. But yesterday he finally announced at the last possible moment that the coveted ride had gone to Nina Carberry, queen of the Cross Country races – of which the varied fences are not unlike Aintree’s unique course.
Nina rode in the race in 2006, finishing 9th on Forest Gunner (famously ridden into 5th the previous year by Carrie Ford), and she’s one of only four women to have completed the race. Once more she rides against her daredevil brother Paul, whose mount fell that year (although he has won the race, on Bobbyjo in 1999): and the bookies are again betting which will finish first!
It’s also time another grey won the race, the last being Nicolaus Silver 49 long years ago, and Nina’s mount Character Building has an outstanding chance of ending that drought. Like 1992 winner Party Politics (who also had a last minute jockey assigned) he was recently purchased by Patricia Thompson, sporting co-owner of Cheveley Park Stud. She’s reportedly a big fan of Nina’s jockeyship, and chose her for the ride.
Nina was stunned by her good luck. “I can’t wait now,” she said yesterday. “It’s great news and I’m delighted that the owners and trainer are letting me ride him. I couldn’t believe it, I just found out this morning when John rang me. I didn’t have a clue, it was a surprise – I wasn’t even going over!
Kate Miller, spokeswoman for William Hill’s, said: “Nina is the first lady of race-riding, and more than matches the boys for guts and determination. This is the greatest chance a woman has ever had in the Grand National and history could be made on Saturday.”
Fortuitously, brother Paul is riding the only other grey in the race, King John’s Castle, who came 2nd in 2008 before injury dictated a year off. He’s been running over much shorter distances since, so who knows how a return to an extreme trip and the famous fences will suit him? Bookies make her favourite of the two siblings at around 4-7 to go further in the race. At least the two of them, being on two of only four greys, will be easy to spot!
Main picture: Nina Carberry and Garde Champetre, far right, taking the double bank in the Cross Country raceat the 2009 Cheltenham Festival which they’d won the previous two years.
Words and pictures by Sara Waterson