The Grand National:

Racing: Ford almost perfect in her 'thrill of a lifetime' ride

Forest Gunner runs dry but the rider keeps on going

It was never going to be a marriage of philosophies: Carrie Ford, nine stone of resolve and an obsession to claim a Grand National for the distaff side of the jockeys' fraternity, and Ginger McCain, who had proclaimed that if she achieved any such thing he would "bare my bum to the winds".

For weeks, she had withstood his jibes: that she was unsuited to her partnership with such a National favourite, that Ford should have perhaps been entered for the 12.30 at Windsor Guildhall rather than the 4.10 at Aintree.

Whatever the public's thoughts about the merits of the former occasion, there was no doubting their approval for the sole female participant of the latter. There was strong belief that on the big day it would be a union made in heaven for Ford, aboard her "little white-faced freak", as she describes the 11-year-old, Forest Gunner, trained by her husband Richard.

Here on the course and, apparently, from those surveying events from home, the weight of betting money indicated a contempt for the decidedly un-PC forecast of McCain, the trainer of Red Rum and Amberleigh House, who had contended that "horses do not win Nationals ridden by women". Ford was determined that she would provide the most cutting answer on the racecourse, although it was perhaps just as well that she was not aware of the spectacular nature of that financial support. Bookmaker William Hill's David Hood estimated that industry-wide, the weight of £8m of the £120m total staked on the race had been placed on the shoulders of Ford.

Forest Gunner started second favourite. For expectant punters, that meant potential winnings of around £75m. For his rider, this 33-year-old mother of one young daughter, the profit from victory would be Grand National immortality. Certainly, Forest Gunner was deemed liable to perform rather more auspiciously than the 12 horses previously ridden by women, who had recorded, with one exception, a depressing litany of outcomes: "refused", "pulled up", "fell", unseated, and "last".

Despite McCain's doubts, there was no doubting Ford's fitness from her regular work-riding at home. As for tactical awareness, she had taken the counsel of Neale Doughty, rider of the 1984 victor, Hallo Dandy. Before the race, Ford had sought the haven of the lady jockeys room, where a calm environment is ensured by the presence of two attendants who prefer knitting to horseracing. By all account, Black Beauty could romp home and they wouldn't raise an eyelid from their stitches. There, the National's 13th woman rider since the race was inaugurated in 1839 could focus and prepare herself mentally. She emerged, weighed out and posed for a "team photo" with her 39 male counterparts before forcing her way through the throng to the parade ring.

Her husband watched transfixed from the sidelines. His words of a few days ago came to mind when he was asked about the trepidation he would experience witnessing his wife participate in this of all races: "When we married, we both knew what we were letting ourselves in for. I'm the one who sits there as it unfolds and hopes that there won't be too many pieces to pick up if it all goes pear-shaped. If it does, it's my fault."

In the end, the four and a half miles and 30 obstacles proved probably around a mile too far for Forest Gunner. For much of the race, he was cantering easily among the leading pack. The horse who has twice won over these fences, but at a lesser distance of 2m 6f in the Fox Hunters' Chase, appeared poised to lay down a serious challenge to the eventual victor, Hedgehunter and those pursuing him. Ford and Forest Gunner eventually had to accept fifth, beaten by 27 lengths, that finishing position equalling the best performance by a woman in the National, Rosemary Henderson's achievement on Fiddlers Pike in 1994.

"It was a better class of race than he's run here before," the rider said. "He was brilliant. There was a couple of times when he had to reach for his fences and he just scraped over the Chair. To be honest, he was running on vapours from the Melling Road and it was down to his huge courage that he kept up with them. It's a tremendous feeling having done it. I loved it - it was the thrill of a lifetime."

Then she was asked if she would be back next year. "He might be. I won't be," Ford retorted with finality. She has always maintained that win or lose, this would definitely be her final race.

Her husband added: "I am absolutely chuffed - everything went right, but there was always that little doubt that he would get home, and he hasn't."

Ford was among the nine National "virgins", though such a status has never rendered a partnership forlorn, as winning jockey Ruby Walsh will attest having been successful here on his first National mount, Papillon in 2000.

Christian Williams, the champion novice point-to-point rider in his first season, came frustratingly close to joining that fraternity, the 40-1 shot Clan Royal, trained by Paul Nicholls, emerging the best of the chasing pack behind the comfortable winner.

But Walsh apart, this was Ford's day. Even McCain, whose Amberleigh House finished behind her in 10th, admitted he was getting worried. Richard Ford said: "Ginger came up to me and said 'I thought I was going to get a cold bum there'." There can be no greater accolade than that.

Suggested Topics
News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little