Nina Carbury (11) clears Ruby's Double on Day Three of Punchestown last year
Nina Carberry's first Punchestown festival memory is Risk Of Thurder winning the
La Touche Cup in 1996. So it’s probably no surprise that, 20 years later, her partner in crime over the famous banks at the Punchestown festival is none other than Enda Bolger, the man who trained Sean Connery’s crowd-puller to seven festival victories.
“I started going to the festival when it was over three days and I remember being at Punchestown the day Sean Connery was there to see Risk Of Thunder win the La Touche Cup. He always got a great following and on that day, there was a huge crowd because of Sean Connery being there. It was great for racing that somebody like Sean Connery was involved in the horse.
“I also remember Dad riding in the charity race and over the years, Dad and Arthur would obviously have had a great association with the festival so I’ve got great memories growing up.” re-embarks Nina.
It was in the 2005 La Touche Cup when Nina got her first taste of the famous race and it was at this time too when she linked up with Enda Bolger for the very first time.
“I remember getting my first phone call from Enda and he wanted me to ride Shady Lad in a point-to-point. I jumped at the opportunity to ride him and he finished second.
“Then, he asked me to ride the same horse in the Ladies Cup and I went down to school him beforehand and love him. He finished second again and JT McNamara beat me. There’s a picture at home of the two of us jumping a fence alongside and my hands are up in the air. I was very proud of that picture until one day, Mam sent it off to Enda to show him. Enda came back and gave me an awful slagging and it was the best lesson I ever learned. I still get slagged about that picture.” laughs Nina.
While not old enough to ride against Risk Of Thunder, Nina did have the privilege of riding in opposition to another of Enda Bolger’s festival favourites. However, it was her victory on Good Step over Spot Thedifference in the 2006 La Touche Cup which brings her best festival moment.
“Spot Thedifference was there when I was starting out at Enda’s and he was a great horse. I finished second to him a couple of times but I did manage to beat him when I won the La Touche on Good Step. The course was totally different back then and there was a bullfinch as one of the fences.
“It was a bit of a Foinavon-type moment as a few horses jammed on and some horses nearly got carried out. I was behind JT McNamara, on Spot Thedifference, and the horse in front of him dragged him out a bit and he only popped the fence while my lad jumped the whole fence. That’s the reason why I won that year because he wouldn’t have been as good as Spot Thedifference. I was then second the following year on Freney’s Well to Spot Thedifference so he got his own back on me then.
Spot Thedifference was another legend around Punchestown remembers Nina, who also landed the Champion Bumper that same 2006 festival on Leading Run.
Three years after winning her first La Touche Cup, Nina added a second triumph on Garde Champetre. This was a horse Enda particularly worked his magic on. “He was a cautious jumper before Enda got him but he really loved the banks. He was quick and economical and had a great way of doing it. He did well around Punchestown as well as Cheltenham. He was probably the best jumper of the banks that I’ve ridden.”
It’s been five years since Enda Bolger led in the winner of the La Touche Cup but it’s no coincidence that he has 14 victories in the race, according to Nina. “He has all the bank-type fences at home and he basically replicates what the horses face at Cheltenham and Punches-town. He has his horses so well-schooled coming into the big bank races and he doesn’t leave any stone unturned.
“They all know what they’re doing when they get to the track and I’ve had great times with Enda. I’ve won the last two runnings of the Fr Breen Memorial Ladies Perpetual Cup on Be Positive and Wish Ye Didn’t and I’m hoping that Wish Ye Didn’t might be back again so she’d be one to look forward to. The Punchestown festival has been very good to me.”
Nina explains how she picked up the bug for the banks, which has led to her being the punters’ pal in such races.
“Enda obviously rode the likes of Rick Of Thunder and he got me going and thought me an awful lot. I also learned a lot from following around JT over the banks as well and he thought me how to ride in these bank races. The horses have to be good enough too though so it helps having these good horses to ride.”
Come next Thursday, Nina will be hoping that Enda can stop the rot in the La Touche Cup and make it victory number 15. And Josie’s Orders looks her most likely ride.
“Hopefully, Josie’s Orders will line up in the La Touche. He just didn’t jump the way he normally does at Cheltenham and the gallop really caught him out.
“We got further back than I wanted and we couldn’t make it up in the end. He was going well when he got brought down in last year’s race and then I won on him on the Saturday of the Punchestown festival.”
Some 24 hours after riding in the La Touche Cup, Nina will be expected to bash the bookmakers again when she gets back on board On The Fringe after missing out at Aintree. The 11-year-old will possibly make history should he complete a huge festival treble for the second time in the Donoghue Marquees Champion Hunter Chase on Friday.
“I’m looking forward to getting back on him and he was unbelievable at Aintree. It was great to watch him and that type of race at Aintree really suited him. He completed the festival treble last year and to do it again would be an unbelievable training performance.”
Embarking on another Punchestown festival, the queen of the banks is gunning for more glory. Come dinner time on Saturday, she’s likely to be the most popular female of Irish National Hunt racing once again.