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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
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

Renewable Energy Construction Manager

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Senior Wind Energy Due Diligence Project Manager

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Offshore Wind Project Engineer

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Subsea Proposals Engineer

£50000 - £55000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices