Retired Cheshire farmer John Gilsenan was fighting back tears of pride and joy as he put an arm round trainer Richard Ford and his wife, Carrie, congratulating them on Forest Gunner’s spellbinding display of bold jumping and raw guts after the Red Square Vodka Gold Cup at Haydock last weekend.

“Carrie will ride Forest Gunner in the Grand National,” declared Gilsenan in an outpouring of emotion. “I have complete faith in her. Remember what they did together over those big fences in the Fox Hunters last year.”

The romance of the Grand National grows ever stronger with the prospect of Mrs Ford becoming the first woman to win the world’s most famous race. She is as short as 12-1 to strike a massive blow for the fairer sex in the saddle.

Forest Gunner led virtually all the way in the £120,000 feature chase, but then, agonisingly, looked as if he was going to be run out of it by Double Honour halfway up the run-in. Double Honour forged narrowly ahead before Peter Buchanan conjured one final rally from a tired but indefatigable Forest Gunner, who simply would not be denied.

“We call him the little white-faced freak,” beamed Richard Ford. “He’s not good to look at or when he moves. We bought him cheap and unbroken out of a field and look what he’s done. Wasn’t he brave?”

Carrie, who has been riding since the age of two-and-a-half, combines with Forest Gunner to make a great team round Aintree.

She explained: “Money can’t buy a horse that operates round Aintree, and he really does light up when he gets out there. The place does exactly the same for me. It’s all a dream because it is the ultimate for any lady rider to have a chance of competing in the Grand National.”

Their famous victory in the Fox Hunters at last year’s National meeting came just weeks after Carrie had given birth to baby Hannah, who was in her pushchair in the winners’ enclosure on Saturday to greet the family’s hero. Forest Gunner returned to his favoured Aintree in November to take the Grand Sefton Chase under Buchanan.

“The whole thing is nerve-racking,” smiled Carrie. “I’ve never been good at watching and my heart was nearly bouncing out of my chest with excitement.”

She will reapply for her amateur rider’s licence and says the Grand National will be her only race. Even on such a restricted programme, there need be no worries on the score of Carrie’s fitness. She rides out five or six lots every morning before swimming 50 lengths in her local baths. The dream lives on.

  • This racing report was first published in Horse & Hound (24 February, ’05)


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