Cheltenham Racecourse today announces the seven names that form the shortlist for its inaugural award recognising Ladies in Jump Racing. The 2007 Award of “The Outstanding Contribution made by a Lady to Jump Racing” attracted a large number of nominations from members of the public, and those shortlisted include women involved in racing in a host of different ways.
The ‘magnificent seven’ are: Henrietta Knight and Venetia Williams, representing the ranks of trainers; Dinah Nicholson, trainer’s wife, charity supporter and staunch advocate of British Breeding; Carrie Humble, founder of the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre; Heather Atkinson, Senior Nurse in the Jockeys’ Hospital at Cheltenham Racecourse for almost 30 years; Nina Carberry, arguably the best female Jump jockey of all time, and Helen Donnelly, a key member of stable staff in several yards over the past 18 years, most notably as travelling head lass for Jonjo O’Neill for eight years.
The winner is being decided by a panel made up of Zara Phillips, Clare Balding and Gee Bradburne (nee Armytage) and will be announced on 7th March. The successful Lady will then be presented with her award at The Festival, on Thursday 15th March, the date of Cheltenham’s first ever Ladies Day.
Commenting on the shortlist, Edward Gillespie, Managing Director of Cheltenham, said: “Cheltenham is proud to instigate this award, which will be the centrepiece of Ladies Day at The Festival. We were delighted to receive so many nominations covering a wide cross-section of the industry and the final seven sum up the hugely significant contribution ladies make across the whole spectrum of Jump Racing. The judges do not face an easy task!”
Notes: In addition to the presentation of this award, Ladies Day at The Festival on Thursday 15th March will provide female racegoers with the opportunity to win a selection of prizes by adding to the style of this special occasion. 1,000 ladies will be invited to enter the Best Dressed Lady competition as they arrive and the winner will receive a pair of Ryanair tickets plus 4 star hotel accommodation for a weekend in Europe plus £1,000 of vouchers from Cheltenham boutiques. There will also be prizes for the Best Coat, Best Accessories and Best Shoes, with £500 vouchers as prizes.
Brief biographies of all seven ladies on the shortlist appear below. Photographs are available on request.
Venetia Williams always knew that her life was going to revolve around horses. After briefly considering a career as a show jumper, she has dedicated her life to Jump racing. One of the first ladies to ride in the John Smith’s Grand National, Venetia spent time as assistant trainer to John Edwards and Martin Pipe as well as a spell with Barry Hills, and in 1995 she set up on her own with less than a dozen horses in beautiful countryside close to the River Wye in rural Herefordshire. From relatively humble beginnings, she now has 100 boxes with a strike rate which is the envy of most other trainers. Williams has trained the winners of scores of big races, including the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup, the King George VI Chase, the Paddy Power Gold Cup, the Coral Welsh National and two Cheltenham Festival races. However, she is probably best known for her superb handling of the tiny but gallant mare Lady Rebecca, who lit up Jump racing for five years, winning 13 of her 19 races, seven of which were at Cheltenham, including three Byrne Bros Cleeve Hurdles. Her third win in the race, under regular pilot Norman Williamson, was one of those very special moments that will live long in the memory of all those lucky enough to witness it. Venetia Williams has been the top female Jumps trainer for a number of years and is quite clearly one of the leading ladies of Jump racing.
Without doubt the most famous ex-schoolteacher (history and biology) in racing, Henrietta Knight’s career as a trainer has been lit up by a string of wonderful horses headed by Impek, Edredon Bleu and the legend that was Best Mate, the first horse since Arkle to win three totesport Cheltenham Gold Cups. A passionate horsewoman, Henrietta was at one time a leading three day event rider, finishing 12th at Badminton in 1973. She also trained well over 100 Point to Point winners before becoming a fully fledged Jumps Trainer in 1989. In excess of 600 winners have followed, many of which have been in the claret and blue colours of popular Midlands owner Jim Lewis. Knight’s achievements include seven victories at The Festival, two wins in the King George VI Chase and an amazing seven Peterborough Chases at Huntingdon. She really captured the public’s imagination however through the exploits of Best Mate, who lit up Jump racing between 1999 and 2004. A seemingly unlikely romance
blossomed several years previously with legendary Jump jockey Terry Biddlecombe (they were married in 1995), and the endearingly eccentric couple captured the hearts of millions with their unbridled emotion at the success of Best Mate in his three Gold Cups. Unfailingly patient and polite, particularly given the intense interest in Best Mate during his years at the top, Henrietta Knight’s love of her horses is legendary and there is no question that her presence has hugely enriched the history of Jump racing.
As a major part of the hugely supportive team behind her husband, Jump racing legend David ‘The Duke’ Nicholson, Dinah Nicholson has become a much loved part of the racing world, particularly so by the string of future top jockeys and other racing luminaries who spent some time under the tutelage of Dinah and ‘The Duke’. Jockeys such as Richard Johnson, Robert Thornton, Richard Dunwoody and Adrian Maguire, Clifford Baker, now head lad to Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls, and Alan King, successful trainer in his own right, are all on the long list of people who have a lot to thank Dinah for. One of her great achievements was the organisation of the annual stables Open Day, which become one of the highlights of the year for many local racing fans and raised countless thousands of pounds for charity over 25 years, from 1975 until David’s retirement in 1999. However, it is not just as a trainer’s wife that Dinah has made a major contribution - in fact this wonderful lady has
done much in her own right for the racing industry, albeit not always in the glare of the spotlight. Now the British Horseracing Board’s Bloodstock Representative, Dinah has worked tirelessly for many years to support the development of the breed. Dinah Nicholson and ‘standing still’ are rarely used in the same sentence and even following the sad passing of husband David last year, Dinah has continued to be a shining example to all of us. Jump racing truly has much to thank Dinah Nicholson for.
With what seems a carbon copy of the impish grin, immense natural ability and the fierce determination of her brother Paul, Nina Carberry has had a rapid rise over the last three years from promising young amateur jockey in Ireland to being hailed as perhaps the best female rider in Jump racing’s history. In fact, despite his success, Paul is always quick to tell you that Nina is the most talented jockey in the family! Their father Tommy is one of the giants of the Jumping game himself and there was certainly no prouder man than Carberry senior when Nina became the first lady to ride a winner at The Festival for 18 years, partnering Dabiroun to victory at 20/1 in the Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle in 2005. Nina also became one of an elite band of just four female riders to complete the course in the history of the Grand National, finishing ninth behind Numbersixvalverde in the world’s most famous steeplechase last April, shortly before a magnificent win on Good Step in the
La Touche Cup over 4m 2f (on the famous banks course at Punchestown); never one to rest on her laurels, she also won over hurdles in Germany last year and picked up the Cork Grand National on Penny Hall in November. Still in her early 20’s, Nina Carberry seems sure to have many more big winners ahead of her and there is no doubt that she has put female Jump jockeys well and truly back on the map.
Founder and Director of the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre (TRC), Carrie Humble has done as much as anyone in the racing world to provide a meaningful life for racehorses following their retirement. Set up in 1991, and granted charitable status in 1993, TRC exists largely on charitable donations and it is a measure of Carrie’s tireless work that hundreds of ex-racehorses have been retrained and re-homed. In fact, thanks to the fund raising efforts of Carrie and her team, TRC was itself re-homed 18 months ago moving into superb new premises at Whinney Hill in deepest Lancashire. For many people, Carrie Humble has become the conscience of racing; we all love the sport, but don’t often take the time to consider what becomes of the horses that entertain us once their careers are over. In the years that TRC has been operating, attitudes within racing have changed significantly. What the Centre experienced initially as a reluctance to face the issues of the ex-racehorse’s
problems has, through years of hard work, started to be an acknowledged issue which the governing bodies of racing are now firmly behind. Carrie formed a famously special bond with Hallo Dandy, winner of the Grand National in 1984 and the only permanent resident of TRC, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 33. Carrie Humble’s work is not glamorous, nor does she often make the headlines, but she has done immeasurable good for hundreds of horses that would otherwise have faced very uncertain futures and in turn has forced us to face up to our responsibility to the thoroughbred more than ever before.
You would struggle to find a more worthy candidate in the ‘unsung heroine’ category, than Heather Atkinson, the Senior Nurse and Nursing Co-ordinator in the Jockeys’ Hospital in the weighing room at Cheltenham. Heather first worked at the racecourse in the 1972/73 season and, apart from a brief gap looking after her young children in the mid 1970s, she has been there ever since, not missing a Festival since 1981, the year of Sea Pigeon’s second Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle victory. This year’s meeting will be the 29th Festival at which Heather has been attending to injured jockeys, and whilst these days the jockeys hospital is full of the latest medical technology, staffed by a large team of expert doctors and nurses, Heather tells a slightly different story of her early days at Cheltenham. Apparently, there were three old cast iron bedsteads, which had to be kept warm with hot water bottles so that the jockeys didn’t add frostbite to their list of ailments! Heather’s first memory, as far as jockeys are concerned, is of Terry Biddlecombe hobbling around on a pair of wooden crutches, but among current senior pilots she nominates Mick Fitzgerald and Carl Llewellyn as favourites, although keen to stress that all of the jockeys are unfailingly helpful and polite! Of the jockeys now retired, Heather does confess to a soft spot for Steve Smith-Eccles, who always managed to make her smile. Almost all of the great Jump jockeys of the last 35 years have had cause to be grateful for the patient professionalism of Heather Atkinson. Her skill, dedication and service over so many years truly makes her place alongside some of the other leading ladies of Jump racing thoroughly well deserved.
Helen Donnelly is one of those people without whom the racing industry would grind to a halt. In her 18 years of dedicated service in several different racing yards, she has worked countless hours and driven countless miles to look after her beloved horses, but insists that she wouldn’t have dreamed of doing anything else. With the encouragement of trainer John Wilson, Helen set off to the Newmarket Racing School as a 16 year old, determined to work in racing. After graduating, she landed a job with Jonjo O’Neill (in the days when he was based in Cumbria), staying for four years before returning to her native Scotland for a five year spell with Peter Monteith. Jonjo stayed in touch though, and just over eight years ago shrewdly offered Helen the job of travelling head lass and the opportunity to look after some top class horses. It was during this time that Helen experienced the dream of leading up a Cheltenham Festival winner, in the shape of Master Tern’s victory in the Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle in 2000, a race that she still lists as her biggest thrill in racing. More success followed with Legal Right, that talented but fragile chaser, who won big races at Cheltenham, Newbury, Ascot and Haydock. In recent times, she has been a very important cog in the increasingly successful wheel that is Jackdaws Castle, following Jonjo’s move to Gloucestershire. Helen has just moved herself, to Alison Thorpe’s yard in Carmarthenshire, and is looking forward to helping her new stable’s steady rise through the ranks (although she admits that she will miss working regularly with perennial Champion Jump Jockey AP McCoy, who she describes as a true gent). Despite the hours she continues to commit to her job, you will almost never see Helen Donnelly without a smile on her face or her horses without a healthy shine on their coats. We all know that the ladies who make up a significant proportion of stable staff are the backbone of our sport and no-one represents that constituency better than Helen.
ATTRITION IN TOP FORM AS HE SPEARHEADS STRONG CHELTENHAM CHALLENGE FROM EX IRISH POINT-TO-POINTERS
Trainer Mouse Morris today reported that 2006 totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup hero War Of Attrition was back to the same form he was in a year ago ahead of his bid to land chasing’s Blue Riband for a second time on March 16.
The eight-year-old will not be among the many Festival challengers galloping after racing at Leopardstown on Sunday (March 4) and Morris warned that his stable star would prefer the ground to not be too testing at Cheltenham.
"War Of Attrition looks to be in the same kind of form now that he was 12 months ago and I am very happy with his condition," said Morris.
"The ground in Ireland this year has been a nightmare - it’s been too heavy for him. Although he has run some good races on soft ground, he’s nowhere near as good on it as on better ground. It’s like chalk and cheese - he’s a different horse on decent ground.
"Despite the ground not being in War Of Attrition’s favour, it has not affected his preparation for Cheltenham. We use the all-weather gallops and a good grass gallop and have all the facilities at home to have him in top shape for the totesport Gold Cup. He won’t be working at Leopardstown this weekend."
War Of Attrition, the first horse bred by Co Cork-based Brid Murphy and a 15,000 euros graduate of Tattersalls Ireland’s Derby Sale, became the seventh ex Irish point-to-pointer to score in the last nine runnings of the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup 12 months ago.
Morris believes that, even though the Presenting gelding failed to complete when coming down at the last in his only point-to-point at Horse and Jockey on March 9, 2003, Irish point-to-pointing is an ideal grounding for National Hunt prospects.
"War Of Attrition ran in one point-to-point, when he fell at the last. It’s a far better preparation for jumping than bumpers. His jumping is very good now and that’s what you need in the best races," added the trainer.
"I’m not over confident going to Cheltenham - lightning doesn’t strike twice too often, but we have a decent chance and we’ll give it a shot. The Gold Cup is the Gold Cup and there would be plenty of dangers, but we’ll worry about our fellow rather than the others.
"Fingers crossed everything has gone to plan so far and we’ll just have to see what happens in two weeks’ time."
A string of ex Irish point-to-pointers will line up at Cheltenham including two horses regarded by many as Festival bankers, Denman in the Royal & SunAlliance Chase and Gungadu in the National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup.
The pair - jointly owned by Paul Barber - are trained by Paul Nicholls, who believes that Irish point-to-points offer an outstanding preparation for his stable stars.
"Horses get good experience in Irish point-to-points," said Nicholls. "Paul Barber buys a lot of his store horses from Tom Costello and leaves them with Liam Burke to run in Irish point-to-points and if they are any good they then come over for me to train.
"We just happened to be at an Irish point-to-point one day and Adrian Maguire said we should come and look at Denman. We did and we bought him - that was a case of being in the right place at the right time.
"Paul bought Gungadu and a number of young horses from Tom Costello. Gungadu went down that Irish point-to-point route with Liam Burke. I have got two point-to-pointers myself in training in Ireland at the moment and if they are good enough, I will sell them on to people."
Paul Barber added: "I like horses to pop around and win a point-to-point or two.
I buy them as three-year-olds and the experience they get helps them grow up.
"Of the horses I buy in Ireland, I bring some over to be trained by my brother and leave others to race in Irish point-to-points and Liam Burke has been training for me for 12 years. The best of them would be Gungadu."
Brit Insurance Novices’ Hurdle contender Kazal, leading Weatherbys Champion Bumper fancy Mad Fish, 2006 Gold Cup third Forget The Past, Beef Or Salmon, Our Vic and Grand National joint-favourite Dun Doire are just a few of the other ex Irish point-to-pointers to have shone this season.
Irish point-to-point form can be accessed for free on www.p2p.ie
LADBROKES EXTEND ST LEGER SPONSORSHIP UNTIL 2011
It is announced today that Ladbrokes, who took over sponsorship of the Ladbrokes St Leger in 2005 for an initial three-year period, are to continue their support of the world's oldest Classic for a further four years.
Mike Dillon, Director of Public Relations at Ladbrokes, said: "We are looking forward to returning to the new look Doncaster later this year and to working with Arena Leisure to ensure that the Ladbrokes St Leger continues to go from strength to strength over the coming years"
Ian Renton, Racing Director of Arena Leisure, said: "Ladbrokes’ seven-year commitment to the St Leger meeting has helped us greatly increase prize money levels.
"The 2007 Ladbrokes St Leger will have a record prize fund of £500,000, placing it in the top four highest value flat races in the UK. We are extremely grateful to Ladbrokes for their continued support."