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Racing: No regrets for Armytage despite Becher's Brookhalt.


THE chances of a woman trainer having the winner of this year's Martell Cognac Grand National are very good.

But there is no possibility of a female jockey passing the post first tomorrow.

Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning trainer Henrietta Knight has well fancied runners in Chives,Southern Star and Maximize,Lavinia Taylor is hoping for a big run from Gingembre and Sue Smith (Goguenard)and Venetia Williams (Bramblehill Duke)also have horses in the race,but there will be no female jockeys on board any of the 40 strong field once again.

It is nine years since the last women participated in the Aintree showpiece. Rosemary Henderson finished fifth on board Fiddlers Pike to become only the second to complete the course in National history. Geraldine Rees had been the first woman to complete the race, when last home of eight finishers on Cheers in 1982.

Gee Armytage came close to finishing when the then 23-year- old pulled up Gee-A four fences from home at Becher's Brook in 1988. In that race she was joined by two other lady riders in current trainer Venetia Williams (Marcolo,fell sixth fence)and Penny Ffitch-Hayes (Hettinger,fell first).

Armytage,now working with champion jockey Tony McCoy as PA, recalled: ``It is fantastic race to ride in the greatest race in the world. I would love to do it a gain. It is a very special atmosphere on the day of the Grand National. It is like no other race. It was just great to be given the opportunity to ride in it. I had a fantastic ride round,it was a chance of a lifetime really.''

Gee-A,named after owner Geoff Hubbard, was a 33-1 shot coming into the race with few people expecting such a bold run. But Armytage felt that helped her cause.

She added: ``I had won on him at Cheltenham the year before,but he wasn't fancied. So it was very nice in a way as I just went there very confident. He was a big price and a lot of people didn't think he would get round, soI was a bit more relaxed. There was no pressure and it made it a bit easier on me I guess. We lay down at Becher's the second time a round. He was a fast ground horse, and it was very, very soft that year. And he did get quite tired towards the end and rather than just get round we pulled him up.''

The 38-year-old, who was forced to retire in 1995 after injuries to her wrist, collarbone,ankles and back, recalls how after an initial spurt of women riders a number of serious injuries began to see numbers of female jockeys dwindle.

She said: ``There was a lot incidents with the girls who were riding at the time,including myself and I think they (trainers)became afraid to put them up. There is not as many women around with the right credentials now.''


Gee Armytage stopped four from home
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Apr 4, 2003
Previous Article:Racing: Aintree's first lady seeks some new recruits; Trainer Pitman is still dreaming.
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