Grand National Ladies – Nina Carberry

Nina Carberry, born on 21st July, 1984, comes from a famous Irish racing family.

Rumour has it that the Carberry children (like their great friends the Walshes) are taught to ride before they can walk, and that’s probably not a joke. Her father Tommy rode the 1975 Grand National winner L’Escargot, subsequently training Bobbyjo for a famous victory in 1999 with Nina’s brother Paul in the saddle.

Nina’s first winner was on the Flat at the age of 16: Sabrinsky carried her to victory in the prestigious Ladies’ Derby at the Curragh on 15th July 2001.

Not all NH races under Rules are open to amateurs but for those which are, Nina’s services have been much in demand over jumps as well as on the Flat. Known for her finesse with young horses, she regularly rides in Pro/Am Bumpers for leading trainer Noel Meade in Ireland, as well as serving as regular jockey for Enda Bolger who trains a number of Cross Country specialists for leading Irish owner JP McManus.

Nina’s riding career really took off in the 2004/05 season, which resulted in 12 winners under National Hunt rules in Ireland and Britain. In 2005 she became the first woman for 18 years to ride a winner in a race open to professional jockeys at the Cheltenham Festival, when partnering Dabiroun trained by Paul Nolan to win the inaugural running of the Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Handicap Hurdle. In both 2006 and 2007 she won the Grade 1 Championship Bumpers at the Punchestown Festival.

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In the Cheltenham Cross Country race: A New Story (Winner), the grey Lacdoudal (3rd), and far right, Nina Carberry on Garde Champetre in the first McManus silks (4th)

Since those landmark victories she has become famous for her Punchestown and Cheltenham Festival successes in the Cross Country Chases, winning several renewals on Bolger-trained horses including Heads Onthe Ground, and notably on Garde Champetre. Respect and praise for Nina’s skills are universal, and several ladies we have interviewed for this series have nominated her as the woman most likely to boast that elusive title ‘First Woman Rider to win the Grand National’.

The Grand National

After Carrie Ford made all the headlines and ran into fifth place on Forrest Gunner, still an equal ‘best’ for a woman rider, she promised her husband Richard not ride in the race again, as she had a small child to consider. Seeking another woman for the horse, it was natural for Richard to turn to Nina. Despite being unseated on Forest Gunner at the third fence in the Becher Chase at Aintree in her first attempt over the famous obstacles in November 2005, Nina was put up again by Richard Ford on the now 12-year-old Forest Gunner in the 2006 Grand National, coming ninth at odds of 33/1.

Paul also rode in the race that year on Sir Oj who fell at the 22nd fence. They are the only brother and sister to have ridden against each other in a Grand National – although it may not be long before Ruby Walsh and Nina’s best friend his sister Katy follow suit. Last year, Paul and Nina were each riding greys with a very good chance – what an historic one-two that might have been (I even backed it!) but Paul’s mount King John’s Castle (ironically owned by his sister’s big supporter ‘JP’) frustratingly planted himself at the start, so those who bet the shorter odds of 4/7 for Nina to beat Paul home won their wager!

Character Building

Nina’s 2010 mount for the Grand National, Character Building, was bought only the weekend before the race by Mrs Patricia Thompson, owner with her husband David of Cheveley Park Stud near Newmarket. She had also owned the 1992 Grand National winner Party Politics. Wanting her new horse ridden by a ‘professional’ and being an ardent admirer of Nina for some time, on her instructions the summons to partner the grey on the big day went out to Ireland via trainer John Quinn – who had opted not to mention Nina’s amateur status! After all, you have to have won a minimum of 15 chases or hurdle races under Rules to participate.

The jockey meanwhile, who had been lamenting her lack of a ride, could barely contain her excitement: “I just couldn’t believe it when I got the call. Mum and I have just been saying over and over what a dream it is to get a chance like this. I wasn’t even planning to go to Aintree. Now I can’t wait” she told the eager media, who sensed a ‘story’ here of the sort which Aintree so often provides.

After finishing seventh in the race she pronounced the occasion exhilarating, and can hardly wait to get back on Character Building for the next renewal. “Fantastic day,” she reported, “‘It was a bit too quick for him early on. I thought we might be in with a chance at the Canal Turn on the second circuit, but he tired a little.”

Cheveley Park Stud’s managing director Chris Richardson said: “We were all thrilled. At the end of the day he was given a beautiful ride by Nina Carberry. He got round which is very pleasing. The ground was probably a bit quick for him after all. They were always going a bit too fast in the conditions. We’ll have another campaign building up to the same race next year and hopefully Nina will ride.”

Words and pictures by Sara Waterson, 2011


Nina Carberry went on to have four more rides in the Aintree Grand National: in 2011 she again partnered Character Building, to 15th place. In 2012 Organisedconfusion unseated her at the 8th fence. In 2015 aboard First Lieutenant she finished 16th but that year she won the Fox Hunters’ Chase, her first in over the Grand National fences, riding On the Fringe.  In 2016 her mount Sir Des Champs fell at the 15th fence. Nina resumed racing in 2017 after becoming a mother, winning her first race back, but she did not return to the Grand National and announced her retirement from racing in 2018 (after a win at the Punchestown Festival).

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