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Last Updated: Monday, 21 February, 2005, 16:32 GMT
Ford and Forest Gunner chasing first
By Francis Keogh

Carrie Ford and Forest Gunner

In a script fit for Elizabeth Taylor, the 2005 Grand National at Aintree is braced for a real fairytale story.

Mother Carrie Ford wants to come out of retirement and become the first woman to ride a National winner.

And she has a serious chance of doing just that on Forest Gunner, a horse trained by her husband Richard and whose gutsy win in Saturday's big National trial at Haydock followed two victories over the unique Aintree fences.

The 11-year-old horse, who likes to blaze a trail from the front, led all the way and then recovered from being headed in the home straight to claim the Red Square Vodka Gold Cup at the weekend.

One bookmaker reacted by cutting Forest Gunner's odds from 28-1 to 12-1 for the John Smith's Grand National on Saturday 9 April.

"We've had some big stories at Aintree, but this could well be one of the biggest ever. Carrie Ford could be on the Grand National favourite," said excited BBC betting guru Angus 'Statto' Loughran.

FOREST GUNNER FACTS
Age: 11
Races: 19
Wins: 8
Placed: 6
Unplaced: 5
Aintree: Runs 3, wins 3

Carrie will not forgive anyone for saying it, but there are echoes here of the young Elizabeth Taylor in the classic 1940s movie National Velvet.

Taylor famously played a schoolgirl who realised her dream by winning the Grand National on her beloved horse The Pie.

Sixty years on, and there are still some people stuck in that fantasy world.

One Racing Post columnist has even had the nerve to suggest Forest Gunner's chances would increase 10-fold if Carrie (or presumably any woman) did not ride him.

The underlying sexism of the male-dominated betting world may mean she is not favourite when the 40 horses line up at the starting tape.

Adrenaline takes over when you're riding. If that inspires other women, then that's all well and good
Carrie Ford

But aboard a smooth-jumping contender with proven form on the track and a handy low weight of 10 stone 4lbs, Carrie Ford is well placed to follow the successes of fellow British sportswomen like Kelly Holmes and Ellen MacArthur.

Carrie came to prominence at Aintree in April 2004 when she rode Forest Gunner to victory in the Fox Hunters' Chase, the Amateurs' Grand National, just 10 weeks after giving birth to a baby daughter.

She rides out horses in the morning and swims 50 lengths every day, and you can bet your last pound no-one knows the horse better than her.

When I bumped into her at Plumpton races earlier this month, her eyes widened at the mention of Forest Gunner.

"As long as he settles alright at Haydock, we'll probably go for the National. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said the 33-year-old, of Tarporley, Cheshire.

WOMEN IN THE NATIONAL
Rides: 12
Completed: 2 (Geraldine Rees, Rosemary Henderson)
First rider: 1977 - Charlotte Brew (Barony Fort, 200-1 - pulled up)
Best finish: Henderson, 5th on Fiddlers Pike, 1994

At that stage, Saturday's pilot Peter Buchanan was being lined up for April, but he now looks set to be on Strong Resolve, with Carrie re-applying for her riding licence.

Providing ground conditions do not become too testing and despite slight concerns over the four-and-a-half mile distance, Forest Gunner will take his place in a race watched by an estimated global audience of 500 million TV viewers.

Richard Ford, a nervous character when his wife is riding, will not give interviews immediately before races - when he has done so in the past, the horse has been beaten.

Straight-talking Carrie, who led her pride and joy round the parade ring at Haydock as little daughter Hannah watched from her pushchair, may have fewer qualms.

After her win at the 2004 National meeting, the new mum made light work of her achievement.

"Adrenaline takes over when you're riding. If that inspires other women, then that's all well and good," she told BBC Sport.

When asked what was easier, childbirth or riding over the National fences, she replied: "Jumping those".




WATCH AND LISTEN
Interview: Jockey Carrie Ford


BBC Sport's Grand National coverage



NATIONAL HUNT 2004-05

MAJOR CHASES
 

MAJOR HURDLE RACES
 

CORNELIUS LYSAGHT
 

Barry Geraghty had plenty to smile about Review of season
Irish eyes smiling as they dominate jump racing campaign

SEE ALSO
Where is the Aintree fairytale?
09 Feb 05 |  Horse Racing
Mother of all victories
01 Apr 04 |  Horse Racing



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