Horses and racing were the family business. The Irish Grand National was family business too, though meeting up with friends on Easter Monday and heading down to Fairyhouse together to ride the hurdy-gurdies held just as much primacy in her list of priorities as the action itself.
That evolved, of course. This year marks the 10th anniversary of Nina Carberry’s Irish Grand National victory.
“I feel very old,” chuckles Carberry, now 36. “It only feels like yesterday. It was an incredible day. I actually was looking at the replay the other day and it was nice to watch back and feel the joy I had that day. It was unreal. It was a great day.”
Much has happened since. Ted Walsh Jnr proposed to her in Paris a couple of months after the National and they got married the following year. They have two girls now, Rosie (3) and Hollie (one and a half). Rosie did show some interest when her mother put the race on the TV.
“She’d watch now and she’d wonder did I win. That’s all she wants to know, did I win, and it was nice to say I did. Obviously the connection of the family with the Irish National is unbelievable and it’s great to be part of it.”
Unbelievable is right. Nina won on Organisedconfusion, who was trained by her maternal uncle, Arthur Moore. He had propelled King’s Sprite to victory as a jockey in 1971, meaning he was in rare company as someone who had both ridden and trained winners of the Irish National.
Her late father, Tommy is also in that group. He rode Brown Lad to the first two of the Jim Dreaper charge’s three triumphs, in 1975 and 1976. He trained Bobbyjo to land the spoils in 1998, with Nina’s brother Paul in the saddle.
In 1979, Nina’s grandfather Dan Moore filled what had been a rare blank on his CV as a trainer with an emotional triumph. Owner Anthony Robinson, despite having cancer, filled in for the injured Tommy on Tied Cottage. Dan’s health was also failing at the time and so his wife Joan, who would later become manager of Punchestown Racecourse and become the first woman to be a steward of the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee, became even more heavily involved. Sadly, both Robinson and Moore Snr were dead before the end of the following year.
Nina was the third of Tommy and Pamela’s children to record victory, because Philip scored with Point Barrow in 2006. It is unprecedented.
Bobbyjo heightened Carberry’s own levels of interest, bringing the race out of the history books and photo albums.
“My friends were all excited. ‘You’ve a horse running in the National!’ So we’d all back him and it was a dream come true to watch my dad’s horse winning the National and Paul to be riding. I was 10 so it was huge.
“From then on, I understood what it meant to be part of that race. It’s embedded in our history now and it was great that I was able to do it myself, for my uncle.”
By then she had broken down plenty of barriers as a female rider, joined in time by her great friend and sister-in-law, Katie Walsh. They were building on the efforts of Helen Bryce-Smyth, Jean Moore, Rosemary Rooney, Ann Ferris, Caroline Hutchinson, Frances Crowley and others.
Carberry was just 21 when Paul Nolan legged her up on Dabiroun in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham. She would bring her Festival tally to seven as a regular winner of the Cross-Country and Foxhunter Chases forming fruitful partnerships with the likes of Garde Champetre and On The Fringe, and became a multiple champion amateur jockey, with Noel Meade, Enda Bolger and JP McManus among her chief backers.
Winning the Irish National is right at the top of her personal list of highlights, however.
“Big time. It was just an incredible day and everything fell into place. He’d a great weight on his back. The ground started to come right, he wanted a bit of nice ground. I just couldn’t believe it when I passed the line. I said, ‘I’m after winning the National’.”
She was booked for the ride six weeks beforehand. It was a supreme test for a very inexperienced six-year-old but Carberry got him settled and avoided trouble. Yet her confidence had been shaken a little prior to the race.
“I went to school him the week before and he ran away with me. It didn’t really go to plan. I don’t know if Arthur thought that but I didn’t really feel completely in control,” she says.
“Once he was around horses he was fine though and he was fine on the day. Obviously, for a novice, things can happen more quickly than they’re used to and you have to think quick and he did that day, thank God. I got a lovely run through as well.”
Paul had pulled up Backstage before the final circuit but stayed out on the track to watch the fairytale unfold.
“He was the first to get to congratulate me. And then Ted and mum were there as well. I remember the crowd. It was a baking hot day. The crowds in the stands when I was coming in, it was incredible. It was a local winner too, with me riding, and everyone knows Arthur locally. I’d say a lot of people had him backed.”
Granny Joan was there, too.
“It was brilliant to have her there and see it all. She saw my first winner in Cheltenham too with Dabiroun so it was nice for her to be in Fairyhouse to see me win the Irish National and continue the tradition, part of which she made,” says Nina.
The National fell victim to Covid-19 last year so taking place this Easter with no crowds is an improvement.
It is a race that has improved in quality significantly over the years, boosted by increasing prizemoney. The prize fund for this year’s renewal remains a whopping €500,000, despite the obvious impact of the pandemic. As a result, we have the tantalising prospect of Tiger Roll making the short journey from Cullentra House and the highly talented Latest Exhibition is also among an elite list of entries.
“There’s so many high-class horses that win it. The amount of horses that win and go on to do different things. Novice horses have a massive record in it. Organised was a novice. Burrows Saint was the last winner and has a great chance in Aintree this year.
“Something like a Latest Exhibition, I think it will really suit. One of those horses coming in there, they don’t really know how good he is. Something like him could have a big chance. “
She is currently building her own breeding and trading enterprise and will take out a restricted training permit once more to train Dinard Rose under her own name. She hopes the message about pointing being far from an amateur operation but a key element of the industry can be transmitted ahead of the impending announcements regarding Covid restrictions.
That 13 of the record-breaking 23 Irish-trained winners came through the point-to-point circuit is illustrative of that. The continuing pause could be disastrous for the entire industry.
“We definitely need the point-to-points back so that the lads can sell and then come back to buy the stores. At the minute, it’s up in the air.
“Hopefully the English will be seeing what we have and they have to get stuck in but it’s hard to know without the point-to-points being back what the market’s gonna be like. If there isn’t a market for stores, there won’t be a market for foals and so it will go right back down to the breeder.”
Where Nina once held the record for a female rider at Cheltenham, Rachael Blackmore has now established a new mark. It was an important week for women in racing, but Carberry doesn’t believe there is an endemic bias against female riders now. It is about numbers and opportunities and only in the last three years RACE has reported a near 50-50 gender split in those enrolling for the academy’s jockey course.
“Rachael was class. It was brilliant to watch and see her flying the flag for the women as well. She has kept improving, got the chances and it’s great to see,” she says.
“It’s such a hard sport. There’s loads of lads don’t get the chance. You need one of the big jobs or at least a good base. If you had 50 lads and 50 girls starting out, I would imagine the same numbers of each would come through now. But there would have been far less girls ever starting out. And only a small percentage of that are ever going to make it.
“A good lot of girls took out their licences this year I heard and that’s brilliant. Hopefully they’ll get into the right yard. That’s so important.
“You need a bit of luck along the way and hope someone will stick by you. I was lucky I had my father and connections that way. So you just hope that girls will have good guidance and that’s why I think the jockey coaches are doing great for people that don’t have racing backgrounds. And the Jockey Pathway is very good, too.”
One area Blackmore has always found difficult to deal with is the increasing media attention. Carberry admits it can be difficult.
“I found it hard at times. Not so much in Ireland. A bit more in England when I was going to ride in the (Aintree) National. The press just kept ringing and ringing. I think I was riding Character Building one year for Patricia Thompson of Cheveley Park and they all wanted that story. It was probably the first time for me at that level and I found it hard, but I learned how to deal with it.”
And became a National treasure.