Female jockey jumps into history to get Cheltenham races off on the right foot

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The Independent Online

Nina Carberry received one of the loudest cheers at the opening of the annual Cheltenham races yesterday, as she became the most successful female rider at the festival.

Despite the high winds whipping over the starter's rostrum and a hospitality tent on Monday night, racing fever remained undimmed as an estimated 100,000 fans flocked to the event, which runs until Thursday.

After groundsmen worked through the night to avoid the popular race festival falling at the first hurdle, a successful start was unveiled for the first of 25 races on which punters are expected to bet some £500m.

Nina Carberry won the BGC Handicap Cross Country Chase for the second successive year, this time on the horse Garde Champetre, in a third win that beats the previous record of Gee Armytage.

Elsewhere, the Scottish trainer Alan King and jockey Robert Thornton continued their winning streak when the pair teamed up with the 10-1 shot Katchit to win a thrilling renewal of the Kapa Smurfit Champion Hurdle.

With heavy winds still expected at the Gloucestershire venue, precautions were taken to protect vulnerable areas of the racetrack including the removal of the Guinness stand's roof.

The Cheltenham Racecourse managing director, Edward Gillespie, said yesterday: "The racecourse is 100 per cent fine but we have taken damage elsewhere. It's all down to severe wind damage. It was quite substantial. We're now taking it hour by hour. I'm confident we will be opening on time."

A Stena Line Ferries spokesman said Monday's morning's crossings between Rosslare and Fishguard, and Dun Laoghaire and Holyhead, had been cancelled. He said it was hoped there would be sailings last night.

Mr Gillespie added: "We're concerned for people trying to get to Cheltenham. Many ferries from Ireland have been cancelled and I wouldn't be keen to get on an airplane right now. "But I'm sure the Irish will see the cancelled ferries as a challenge."

But the going on Cheltenham's Old Course, which will be used today and tomorrow, was changed to good to soft yesterday; the going is the same on the New Course, where the action continues on Thursday and Friday.

The racecourse caterers Letheby & Christopher say they will serve a total of 20,000 bottles of champagne, 30,000 bottles of wine, 240,000 bottles of beer and 220,000 pints of Guinness, at the event, despite it falling in the season of Lent.