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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 April, 2005, 06:26 GMT 07:26 UK
Q&A: Aintree jockey Carrie Ford
By Cornelius Lysaght
BBC racing correspondent


Mother Carrie Ford has come out of retirement to ride Forest Gunner in the John Smith's Grand National at Aintree on Saturday.

The 33-year-old lives with trainer husband Richard, and baby daughter Hannah, near Tarporley in Cheshire.

Carrie won the Fox Hunters' Chase on Forest Gunner over the big fences at Aintree last year, and will be the subject of huge interest this week.

She took time out from her preparations to answer some burning questions, including trainer Ginger McCain's claim that a woman rider can never win the National.

Q. Well, first things first, you have hardly been out of the headlines of late, what has it been like?

A. It's been fantastic. Obviously for a small yard, such as ourselves, we are not used to being in the media at all, and it has been very exciting. But all the time both of us, Richard and myself, have been continually thinking that we must keep focused for the race itself. Hopefully, we have found the right balance.

Q. Now, let's talk about Ginger McCain (who said a woman jockey could never win the Grand National). What do you say to him, and to others who will be in at least some agreement?

First of all, for those of us who know Ginger, and we've known him for years, his remarks did not seem quite so outrageous.

It was Ginger being Ginger, and neither of us has taken any offence.

However, I think that he's wrong because Forest Gunner is, as I said, a horse that will not take quite the same amount of organising that other horses would.

He and I together are, I think, suitable for the National, though I am not a raging feminist, who would insist that a woman could ride every horse in the National, but it is reasonable that we are there.

Q. And people are pointing out you have got your little daughter Hannah to worry about too...

A. I have got great support from the family anyway, so I can ride the horses, but I spent plenty of time with her too.

It may be morbid, but we have considered this from every angle, especially if something went disastrously wrong, and between Richard and her grandparents, she would be very well looked after.

But that said, and I think that it is a view that most people in racing would take, I am as likely to get injured if I ride in a Flat or a hurdle race, or if I jump in the car and have a collision.

It is a calculated risk that we have thought about, and are prepared to go along with.

Carrie Ford on Forest Gunner
Ford has won five times on Forest Gunner
Q. And last year, how long was it after the birth that you won the Fox Hunters?

A. Ten-and-a-half weeks. At the time, I didn't really think too much about it, it was just something that I decided to do, and it happened, and worked out brilliantly.

On reflection now, I do wonder how I did it on so little (fitness) work. But that was a great advert for adrenaline, and for Forest Gunner's nature.

I knew that 95% of the effort would be put in by him, and I would literally have to hang on and steer, and that is pretty much what happened.

Afterwards, I said that jumping the Aintree fences was easier than childbirth, and believe me, that is true.

Q. Will Hannah be coming to Aintree?

A. No, she will be at home, partly on a superstitious thing because she was at home when we went to the Fox Hunters last year, but partly for me.

Without meaning to sound too awful, I don't think that I could really focus in the same way if she was there because you have to be as professional as possible, completely dialled in, if you want to give it your best shot, which I do.

I will therefore kiss her goodbye, and leave her with people she knows well, and go and get on with the race.

Q. And do you feel fully prepared?

Yes, I am definitely fitter now than I have ever been when riding in the past.

I have worked very hard to be as fit as I can be on the day, by riding four or five lots all through the winter, and then, in the build-up to the National, I have been doing some swimming, and going to the gym, and doing some running.

I have now kicked the swimming into touch as I found it too easy. Yes, it's gone well.

Although Forest Gunner is not a big horse for which you need a huge strength to keep him together - otherwise I wouldn't be in this position - you still have to be fit as a flea to take the race on, and I feel I am as fit as I could be.

Q. You won the Fox Hunters last year, was that when this plan started germinating?

A. No, I quipped to the BBC afterwards that I was retiring unless he ever ran in the Grand National, but that was far removed from my thoughts at the time, and that was very much tongue-in-cheek.

It then became clear that we would go to the National, and the boys that we normally use to ride the horses were not going to be available, so we started talking about it.

It was really a process of elimination, and with the full support of his owner, it was decided that as I had won on him in the Fox Hunters, and over hurdles, I'd get my boots back on, and have another go.

It was all a bit surreal earlier in the year, but after he won at Haydock in February, it all went a bit wild, as you know. It really sunk in then.

Q. And as well as the other preparations, the running and gym etc., you have turned from being an amateur to professional.

A. Yes, that was Richard's thoughts, as I was not sharp enough to think along those lines.

Basically, there is a huge amount of money involved, with prize-money down to sixth, and if you are an amateur and lucky enough to run into any prize-money, you wouldn't get your cut.

And although we are doing okay here, we could all do with a few quid, so if we do get any money, my cut will come my way.

Q. We all know about the so-called Aintree magic, and if you won, it would be one of the great stories, so have you prepared for what may happen?

A. No, not at all. We are all just focusing on the race, and working on getting there, and would not be so greedy as to think further than that.

As for the aftermath, we will just have to deal with whatever happens.

Were things to work out, whilst I am not a raging feminist, it would be brilliant for girls in the sport, and for the sport itself, with this inquiry and that inquiry hanging over it at the moment.

It would be a huge positive for British racing across the world.

Q. So what about it?

A. I try not to think too much about the lady rider thing, but I do appreciate that we will go down to the start as the shortest priced lady-ridden horse ever.

I have full belief in myself and the horse that we are as competitive as the next horse, and good enough.

He's in great form, he loves the course, and I just hope that he has not used up his Aintree luck in the past. And it would be very sweet revenge for Ginger's comments, and even sweeter to see him eat humble pie.

Q. Finally, you have retired once, and come back. What about another go if it all goes well this year?

A. No, categorically, win, lose or draw, that will be it. Most definitely.

If we were to get the result we wanted, I would never be so greedy as to try to cap it.

On Wednesday: Battle of the sexes
Racing's big names on the great debate: Can a woman ride a Grand National winner?

Interview: Jockey Tony McCoy

McCain dismisses Ford Aintree bid
23 Mar 05 |  Horse Racing
Women in the Grand National
05 Apr 05 |  Horse Racing

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