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Dublin: 13°C Tuesday 24 November 2020
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Nina Carberry prepares to watch Cheltenham from sidelines and gives her tips for next week's festival

The 32-year-old is expecting a baby in May and will be a keen spectator at Prestbury Park.

Nina Carberry with On the Fringe and the horse's owner JP McManus after a Cheltenham Festival win in 2015.
Nina Carberry with On the Fringe and the horse's owner JP McManus after a Cheltenham Festival win in 2015.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

MUCH OF THE talk ahead of next week’s Cheltenham Festival has surrounded the high-profile equine absentees, but racing fans will also have to cope without seeing the now-customary shot of Nina Carberry grinning from ear to ear in the winner’s enclosure.

Carberry and husband Ted Walsh Jnr, son of Ted Snr and brother of jockeys Ruby and Katie, are expecting their first child in May, which means Nina won’t be in the saddle at the festival for the first time since she burst on to the Prestbury Park scene 12 years ago.

Her 2005 Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle triumph, on Paul Nolan’s 20/1 shot Dabiroun, meant Carberry, herself of course also of legendary racing stock, became the first female jockey to claim a coveted winner at the festival for 18 years.

Carberry’s love affair with the four-day spectacle has hardly slowed since, racking up a further six winners in the intervening years, including a Cross Country Chase hat-trick for Enda Bolger with Heads On The Ground (2007) and Garde Champetre (’08 and ’09).

The 32-year-old admits it will be a struggle to watch fellow leading amateur Jamie Codd take the ride on (6/4f) On The Fringe in Friday’s Foxhunters Chase (16.10) for Bolger, in what is another hat-trick bid.

Carberry guided the 12-year-old to victories in the last two editions of the race, which follows the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and while she is finding it difficult not to be partnering On The Fringe again, the excitement of pregnancy has her over the moon.

“It’s obviously different this year but I’m missing out for a good reason, so I can’t complain,” Carberry tells The42 as she prepares to head across the Irish Sea to enjoy the week of racing from a much more passive standpoint than she has become accustomed to.

“It will be hard to watch but I’m not injured or anything, so it’s not too bad.

Obviously I’d love to see On the Fringe do the three-in-a-row at Cheltenham and I think he definitely has the ability to do it.

“He showed in Leopardstown that he still has the spark and I think there’s nothing probably there to beat him.

“Foxrock isn’t qualified, he’d obviously be a big danger but he can’t go so I think he has a clear run at it.”

While the Irish contingent is missing a number of star horses — including injured Willie Mullins trio Faugheen, Min and Annie Power, and the deceased Vautour, Gordon Elliott’s Gold Cup champion Don Cossack, and Eddie Harty’s Coney Island — Carberry is confident there is more than enough quality remaining to make it a successful festival on this side of the pond.

“We have a good few novices, a nice few mares going over as well that are doing very well here.

“A few of them are going into different races to avoid a few of Willie’s mares, so it will be interesting to see how they fare.

“We have a lot of entries over there and we’re going over with a good few chances.”

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Carberry, like so many others, is eagerly awaiting the chance to see if Douvan can add to his fearsome reputation and continue his unbeaten record under Mullins in Wednesday’s Queen Mother Champion Chase (15.30) for which the seven-year-old is currently a red-hot 1/4 favourite with most bookmakers.

Curiosity around Friday’s Gold Cup (15.30) is also brewing following a number of high-profile withdrawals.

“Obviously Douvan is probably the biggest star. I think everyone would like to see him prove himself again.

“The Gold Cup is always a massive race as well so it will be interesting to see who wins that.

“It’s very wide open this year with Thistlecrack not being in. Native River is an up-and-coming young horse and he’s done nothing wrong all year. But he’s had a hard season so it will be interesting to see if that has taken its toll.

“Djakadam is obviously coming back with a better preparation this year [after picking up a nasty cut in last year's build-up], so it will be interesting to see how he goes. I think Djakadam is probably our biggest threat to the English in the Gold Cup.”

Des Cahill with Nina Carberry MC Des Cahill with Nina Carberry at the Irish Times Sportswoman Of The Year Awards last December. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

As someone who is so closely connected to Bolger’s yard there are few better to ask about the likely winner of Wednesday’s Cross Country Chase (16.10).

Bolger is aiming for a sixth success in the race and has four runners in the reckoning for this year’s renewal; heavy favourite Cantlow (9/4), Auvergnat (7/1), Colour Squadron (16/1) and Quantitaveeasing (10/1), although the latter may yet be bumped out when the 16-horse field is finalised on Thursday.

Carberry has a clear soft spot for Adrian Heskin’s promising seven-year-old mount Auvergnat, with Mark Walsh expected to take the ride on Cantlow.

“Enda has a good few for the Cross Country. Cantlow is obviously favourite but he has another horse there in Auvergnat. He won the last day in Punchestown and I think he could improve a good bit.

“His favourite is Cantlow and he’s going with him but I like Auvergnat. I think he was travelling well the last day and I think he could be a big danger to Cantlow.”

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