Liz Taylor Did It in National Velvet; Now Joy Carrier Saddles Up

updated 04/11/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/11/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

Joy Carrier, a strapping blond blue blood, will be the first American woman to ride in the world's most dangerous horse race, Britain's Grand National, to be held on April 9 at Aintree, outside Liverpool. The steeplechase is exhausting: four miles and 856 yards over 30 fences, some as high as 5'2" and all 8'6" wide. Indeed, for horse and rider it is a triumph just to finish—and most don't.

Only one woman, England's Geraldine Rees, 27, has ever completed the grueling course. She plans to be back this year, striving for the first-place trophy. British bookies believe that the 29-year-old Carrier has a better shot at winning, however. Her mount, named King Spruce, is listed at 33 to 1, rating him 11th in the expected field of 45.

The blue-eyed ex-debutante is the only woman ever to take the prestigious Maryland Hunt Cup (in 1980 and 1981), a timber classic held in Glyndon, Md. that requires skills similar to those needed at Aintree.

Joy was in the saddle even before she was born, thanks to a mother who, while pregnant, was master of foxhounds at the Essex Hunt in plush Far Hills, N.J. Astride her own pony at 2, Joy was picking up horse show ribbons a year later. By the time she went off to boarding school at Foxcroft in Virginia, she had appeared in most major U.S. amateur show events.

Following her graduation she trotted right by college ("I never even applied") and headed for horse-mad Ireland, where she sought experience working with top horsemen. She also caught up with Russell "Rusty" Carrier, whom she'd first met on a fox hunt when she was 12. Since their 1981 marriage, they have lived near a stud farm outside Dublin, where Rusty works as an assistant trainer. It was he who persuaded the 140-pound Joy, who will compete as an amateur, to challenge Aintree. "The race suits people who fox hunt," Rusty explains. "Joy was bred to do that." At 76, her grandmother still rides to hounds three times a week. So if bloodlines count in the 139th Grand National, Carrier belongs in the winner's circle.

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