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Cheltenham Festival: The Ultimate Guide - 2021-03-05

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‘Energumene impressed me – I thought he was f lawless’

FESTIVAL Q&A: NINA CARBERRY

Lewis Porteous talks to the former jockey from a famous racing family

From one of the great dynasties of jump racing, Nina Carberry enjoyed huge success as an amateur rider at the Cheltenham Festival, winning seven times at the meeting during a career which scaled great heights. Synonymous with the green-and-gold silks of JP Mcmanus, all but one of her festival wins came for the prominent owner, including back-to-back victories aboard On The Fringe in the Foxhunter. As well as her own success, Carberry took great pleasure watching her brothers Paul and Philip land some of the most prestigious races at the festival, where their late father Tommy rode the winner of the Gold Cup three times during the 1970s. Nina, Paul and Philip may be retired from competitive action but the biggest jumps meeting of them all remains an institution for the Carberry family. What was that landmark first festival win on Dabiroun like? It was absolutely brilliant and helped my career take off. I don’t think anyone was afraid to put me up in big races or at big festivals after that. I was towards the end of my 5lb claim at the time, and Paul Nolan and the owners wanted to claim off him and I got the ride only the week before. I wasn’t expecting it at all but for a four-year-old he jumped brilliantly the whole way and travelled so strongly – I didn’t have to move a muscle until after the last. It was a dream come true. Your subsequent festival victories were all achieved for Enda Bolger and JP Mcmanus – which one gives you the fondest memories? Every one of them was a great thrill but On The Fringe is the horse who sticks out most for me. He was a very special horse for John Thomas Mcnamara, who was a very special person to me. So to go and win the Foxhunter and show everyone he was the horse we thought he was, was very emotional and it was just great to be involved with that horse. We won the race twice, the second being the more dramatic as he missed the fence at the top of the hill and was on the back foot when the leaders kicked going down the hill. He had to make up a lot of ground and it didn’t go according to plan compared to the previous year when he cruised everywhere. There was always a bit of pressure to win on him. Is returning victorious to the Cheltenham winner’s enclosure as good as they say it is? It’s better! It’s an unbelievable feeling. You get such a long walk back in front of the crowd and even if you do finish down the field they clap you in. To win is even better and if you happen to be on a winning favourite the crowd are just so pleased. I don’t think I’ll ever get that feeling again but it was nice to have experienced it. Going out to ride for Enda Bolger in races like the Cross Country and Foxhunter must have given you huge confidence, what was his secret? He’s an unbelievable man to get one right for the day. I suppose his secret is schooling, schooling and more schooling, and having the right kind of horse. He won’t miss if he has the right type and you’re always filled with a lot of confidence going out. You’re not worried about their jumping, so you can ride your own race and concentrate on where you want to be. The Cross Country is not always the most popular race at the festival, what would you say about it? I think it’s a good option for trainers who have a horse who has probably reached a very high rating and needs something different to look at. Horses like Tiger Roll and Silver Birch progressed again after the Cross Country and i don’t see why it would come in for any criticism. It’s only getting higher and higher profile horses running in it and it’s getting harder to win. It’s a different spectacle for people to watch and it’s great they can go out on to the track and get close to the action. What has been your most difficult festival moment? Being down at the start for the crosscountry race and watching JT being taken to the air ambulance. It was probably the only time when I didn’t really care about how I was going to get on in a race, I was just hoping he was okay. It was a difficult moment for anyone who was close to John Thomas and everyone was thinking about him and his family. What was the atmosphere in the weighing room like at Cheltenham and how different was it to an average meeting? It’s on a different level. Cheltenham defines your whole season. A winner at Cheltenham means you’ve had a good season. For your career also, having a winner there means owners aren’t afraid to put you up. There’s a lot going on and everyone wants to do well but there’s also a great buzz and everyone says well done when you do have a winner because of what it means. Which part of the course poses the toughest question for horse and rider? The ditch at the top of the hill can catch a few horses out but other than that, it’s probably the undulations of the track and horses going at speed coming down the hill. You’re coming from a winter of soft ground to Cheltenham that hasn’t been raced on since January and you’re on a bit of nicer ground, so they’re going that bit quicker which can catch horses out as well. Trying to get breathers in at the right time is very important. Growing up, what did the Cheltenham Festival mean to you? From a young age we always watched the Cheltenham Festival and we’d always get the afternoon off school and were allowed to come home and watch it. My brother Paul is ten years older than me so it was brilliant watching him. It was a big deal and to be a part of it in some way was just great. It was massive in my eyes when I was younger and a big spectacle. What’s your earliest festival memory? Probably Paul riding his first winner there at 16 and then seeing him on the news. He won the bumper on a horse called Rhythm Section. I was only six at the time and it was a massive surprise. It was great for him and we all cheered him on, so it’s a really nice memory to have. What was it like to watch your brothers win big races at the festival? Fantastic. It made me so proud because it all boils down to whether you have winners at Cheltenham, so it was great for them to be up there amongst the top riders. It was massive for Philip to win the Champion Hurdle on Sublimity and we were so proud to see him win. If you came out of retirement to ride one horse at this year’s festival, who would it be? Envoi Allen. He’s an unbelievable horse and I just love the way he jumps fences. He’s so foot perfect and I’m sure anyone would love to throw their leg across him. He never wins by too far and we still don’t know how good he really is. Which horse do you rate as the Irish banker this year and why? I think Envoi Allen and Zanahiyr in the Triumph Hurdle are going to be very hard to beat. Are you for or against a five-day festival? I’d be for it. I can’t see why it would be a disadvantage as it’s only going to get more people to the races. I think the more races you can have at Cheltenham and the more people you can involve, the better. I know there’s the argument about diluting the quality but you’re always going to have a Gold Cup with the best horses in it and another day means more owners, who are buying the horses at big money, who can have a chance and that can only be good for racing. Why not give them the opportunity to run at the biggest festival? Which race are you most looking forward to this year? The Champion Hurdle. I can’t wait to see how Honeysuckle gets on if she goes for it. It would be great to see her and Rachael Blackmore win. I’m not sure how she’d get on on a bit of better ground but she showed how good she was at the Dublin Racing Festival and her winning for Rachael would be brilliant. Can Al Boum Photo become an all-time festival great and win a third Gold Cup? I don’t see why not. Willie Mullins is an unbelievable man to get him right every year and he’s taken the same path again. He definitely goes there with as good a chance as last year. The one who might give him most to think about could be A Plus Tard. Who wins the Arkle; Shishkin or Energumene? I was very impressed with Energumene at the Dublin Racing Festival. I thought he was flawless and that there’s still a lot more in him as well. He’s a very good horse and will definitely put it up to Shishkin if he goes through a flat spot. On what I saw at Leopardstown, it’s Energumene for me.

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