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Cheltenham Announces Shortlist For Ladies’ Award

Cheltenham Racecourse today announced the six names that form the shortlist for its award recognising “the outstanding contribution made by a lady to Jump Racing". A large number of nominations were received from members of the public, and those shortlisted include women involved in racing in a host of different ways.

Nina Carberry

nina carberry

The six names in the frame are: Nina Carberry, arguably the best female jump jockey of all time; Jessica Harrington, representing the ranks of trainers; Melanie Langford, a key member of the stable staff at Henry Daly’s yard since he started training; Denise Large, the programme director of Channel 4’s coverage of The Festival; Lady Chicky Oaksey, senior almoner at the Injured Jockeys’ Fund and Ann Saunders, company secretary of the Professional Jockeys’ Association, having worked for that organisation for 31 years.

The winner is being decided by a panel made up of Zara Phillips, Clare Balding, Jacqui O’Neill and Gee Bradburne and will be announced on Friday, March 7. The successful lady will then be presented with her award at The Festival on Thursday, March 13, the date of Cheltenham’s Ladies’ Day.

Commenting on the shortlist, Edward Gillespie, Managing Director of Cheltenham Racecourse, said: “Cheltenham is proud of 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 make up of the final six sums up the hugely significant contribution ladies make across the whole spectrum of Jump Racing. The judges do not face an easy task!”

Last year’s winner of the inaugural award was Heather Atkinson, who has been the senior nurse in the jockeys’ hospital at the racecourse for over 30 years.

In addition to the presentation of this award, Ladies’ Day at The Festival on Thursday, March 13, will provide female racegoers with the opportunity to win a selection of prizes by adding to the style of this special occasion. Ladies will be invited to enter the fashion awards as they arrive, with some fabulous prizes for the winners of Best Dressed Lady, Best Hat and Best Accessories.

Brief biographies of all six ladies on the shortlist appear below.

The Outstanding Contribution made by a Lady to Jump Racing - 2008 Award Nominees.

Nina Carberry

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 four years from promising young amateur jockey in Ireland to being hailed as perhaps the best female rider in Jump Racing 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 against the professional jockeys for 18 years, when partnering Dabiroun to victory at 20/1 in the Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Handicap Hurdle in 2005.

She followed this with victory aboard well-backed favourite Heads Onthe Ground in the BGC Cross Country Steeplechase in 2007. 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 on Forest Gunner behind Numbersixvalverde in the world’s most famous steeplechase in April, 2006. Still only 23, 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.


Jessica Harrington

Jessica Harrington, the universally popular Irish racehorse trainer, will forever be associated with Moscow Flyer, one of the greatest two-mile chasers in the history of the sport.

A former world-class three day event rider, Jessica’s first top horse was Space Trucker, who won 15 races between 1995 and 2002. His most memorable victory came in the Grand Annual Handicap Chase at the 1999 Cheltenham Festival, where he landed a substantial gamble on the day. Spirit Leader proved to be another lucrative performer for the yard, with a great season culminating in victory in the 2003 Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle and Jessica also enjoyed success with Cork All Star in the 2007 Weatherbys Champion Bumper at The Festival. Moscow Flyer was a leading hurdler, but really came into his own when sent over fences. In his first season, he won The Irish Independent Arkle Chase of 2002 and progressed to winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2003. Unseating jockey Barry Geraghty in the 2004 renewal of that race, he made amends in 2005, sparking a reception rarely seen at Cheltenham. His final win was in a charity Flat race at the 2007 Punchestown Festival, ridden by Jessica’s daughter, following which there was not a dry eye in the house! In total, he won 27 of his 45 starts including 13 wins at Grade One level and over £1 million in prize money.

Approachable, affable and always one to treat both winning and losing with huge dignity, Jessica Harrington is one of the legends of modern Jump Racing and a worthy nominee for this special award.


Melanie Langford

Melanie Langford falls firmly into the unsung heroine category and is clearly someone who lives for her horses.

Having worked with Henry Daly since he took over from his mentor, Captain Tim Forster, Melanie has been connected with the Shropshire yard for over 10 years.

She is perhaps best known for looking after the highly talented, but highly strung Mighty Man, one of the best staying hurdlers of recent years. Mighty Man was a horse who used to get himself wound up on race days and Melanie’s skill and hard work teaching him that a day at the races didn’t require expending too much nervous energy before the tapes rose played a significant part in the horse realising his potential, featuring three Grade Two wins at Aintree and victory in the Grade One Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot.

In addition to her work with the horses, Melanie’s sunny and helpful disposition has been a great asset at the yard, where she takes particular pride in helping and encouraging new staff. Not content with working at a top jumping stable, Melanie is also an accomplished trainer and driver in the harness racing world. Indeed, in the Wales & Border Counties Racing Association, she was champion driver in 2007 and has been champion lady driver since 2000.


Denise Large

Denise Large has a profound impact on how millions of people enjoy Jump Racing, yet could walk through almost any racecourse virtually unrecognised.
Having been a member of the Channel 4 Racing team for more than 20 years, Denise has been programme director of Channel 4’s Festival coverage since 1999, with additional responsibility for producing The Festival Morning Line broadcasts.

She first came into contact with racing on TV via her work as a graphics operator for coverage of Newmarket, whilst working for Anglia TV in Norwich. She swiftly moved on to become a vision mixer before graduating to producing and directing with Highflyer Productions, the company which produces Channel 4 and Racing UK’s horseracing output. With Denise on the team, Channel 4 Racing has won two of the most prestigious television awards, with a BAFTA for best Outside Broadcast for coverage of the Derby and the Royal Television Society Award for best sports programme of 2006 for coverage of The Festival at Cheltenham.

Famously calm under even the most intense pressure, Denise is a staunch advocate of using the latest technology to bring the viewer at home as close to the action and atmosphere of a day at the races as possible, an approach which greatly enhances the way in which the sport is perceived.


Lady Oaksey

No-one in racing is in any doubt as to the debt owed by the sport to the Injured Jockeys Fund, a charity established in 1964 by journalist, amateur rider and broadcaster Lord John Oaksey. And no-one connected with the IJF is in any doubt as to the debt owed by the charity and its beneficiaries to John Oaksey’s wife Chicky, the senior almoner of the fund who has done so much in so many ways over almost 20 years to help jockeys past and present.
The IJF has a team of nine independent almoners who are responsible for identifying, supporting and keeping all the beneficiaries under review. As the senior member of that team, Lady Oaksey travels extensively to keep the trustees in constant touch with all injured jockeys. As she explains: “My job is to visit anybody who is in need of help – whether that is an arm around a shoulder, financial assistance, advice on how to receive benefits, or even some company to take the sting out of loneliness”. This work, although rewarding, is immensely time consuming and can, at times, be emotionally draining, but the last person you would ever find complaining would be Chicky Oaksey. She is a shining example of someone who devotes their life to making the lives of others a little better and is quick to dismiss any suggestion that she is doing something extraordinary. The people she helps and those who love the sport of Jump Racing know only too well that she is, indeed, an extraordinary woman.


Ann Saunders

Ann Saunders is another of the nominees who would not be well known to the wider racing public.

However, several generations of jockeys hold her in the highest possible regard – which is not really surprising as she has worked for the Professional Jockeys’ Association (until recently known as the Jockeys’ Association of Great Britain) for over 30 years, more than half of that time as company secretary.
From the likes of John Francome and Steve Smith Eccles through to the modern day masters such as AP McCoy and Richard Johnson, she has been the unofficial godmother to countless jockeys, helping them in so many ways. With the unswerving support of her husband Mick, Ann has been the administrative glue that has held the PJA together throughout the last three decades.

Michael Caulfield, who was head of the organisation for 15 years, praised her ‘amazing personality’ and described her as “The queen of admin, who is so efficient she could probably trace every tea bag that we’ve used in the last 30 years!”

Modest to a fault, Ann’s calm and meticulous manner has seen her run all aspects of the company over the years, even including a period as acting chief executive, with her devotion to the sport and to ‘her jockeys’ resulting in an MBE seven years ago. In terms of an award for outstanding contribution to Jump Racing, there would be few more deserving recipients.

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