Rachael Blackmore: Historic Grand National triumph for modest trailblazer

Blackmore became the first woman to lead jockey at the Cheltenham Festival last month

Like countless young pony riders, Rachael Blackmore watched the movie National Velvet starring Elizabeth Taylor and dreamed of one day winning the Grand National.

On April 10, 2021, she realized the fantasy. The first female jockey to triumph in the world’s most famous obstacle race with a sweeping win in the Minella Times.

“National Velvet was definitely something that would have been on TV when we were growing up. I don’t have a strong line on it,” she told me.

In the legendary 1944 film, Taylor played 12-year-old Velvet Brown, who won the National on a gelding called The Pie, but was later disqualified for technical reasons.

Blackmore, a softly spoken but articulate person, had saved her “punching line” shortly after crossing the finish line at the Minella Times with an 11-1 chance, which had been trained by Henry de Bromhead for owner JP McManus.

“I don’t feel male or female right now. I don’t even feel human,” the 31-year-old Irish driver told ITV. “It’s just amazing.”

A little later, during an interview when the level of her performance plummeted, she took a breath and calmed down before continuing. Wonder woman is human after all.

Rachael Blackmore says winning Grand National is “incredible”

“Incredible” – Blackmore’s Rise

The daughter of a dairy farmer and schoolteacher, she rode ponies as a child near her home in Killenaule, County Tipperary.

Blackmore had once hoped to become a veterinarian, get a degree in equine science, and combine her studies with horse riding and competition as an amateur before turning pro in 2015.

She is a quiet pioneer – she has won among the top three Irish jockeys for the last two seasons and has a chance to win the title this time around.

“My first memory of racing was when I was around seven or eight years old and watching the Grand National around a friend’s house and it had this particular hype,” she said.

“I took out my amateur jockey license and didn’t even dare to dream that I would be in the race, let alone drive the winner.

“It’s such a special race. I finished tenth last year and got a kick out of it. To be honest, it’s incredible to go forward with my head.”

Your world is racing. Boyfriend Brian Hayes and roommate Patrick Mullins are both successful jockeys.

Working with De Bromhead, who is based in Knockeen, County Waterford, numerous major rides have been made, including Honeysuckle, the pioneering Champion Hurdle winner who the trainer followed with Champion Chase and Gold Cup wins.

Blackmore has the talent – riding instinct, tactical awareness, strength in goal – but also the work ethic. She is a grafter and has competed in more races (516 and more) than anyone in Ireland this season.

And she has a high pain threshold, a big plus in a sport where ambulances follow every race and falls at 30 mph is a way of life.

Winner Coach Henry De Bromhead and Winner Jockey Rachael BlackmoreThe partnership between De Bromhead and Blackmore has been extremely successful

“I will not be the last” – the humble pioneer

It might be too much to say that Blackmore rode to the rescue of racing, but her feel-good story comes after a difficult start to the year that saw a coach and jockey banned after social media posts from them surfaced, who posed with dead horses.

The success of women competing on equal terms against men is an extremely positive narrative for the sport.

Flat jockey Hollie Doyle finished third in the BBC’s “Sports Personality of the Year” award in December, while Bryony Frost became the first woman to win the King George VI Chase in Kempton on Frodon.

“That means everything, it really does, it’s hard to even understand now,” Blackmore said.

“It’s just an amazing feeling, but you don’t really let yourself believe it until you’ve actually crossed the line.”

Women were banned from racing in the National until the 1970s, before Charlotte Brew was the first on a 200-1 underdog 44 years ago.

Eighteen other women have raced with a total of 35 runners, but only in recent years have their chances increased – 11 of the first 15 national rides for female jockeys had a price of 100-1 or more.

Seabass’s best ever result came in 2012 when she came third for Katie Walsh, who paid tribute to Blackmore.

“I’m happy for Rachael,” said Walsh. “It’s not just bad luck or coincidence, she worked hard to get it.

“She is an inspiration to both male and female jockeys. This is the most watched race in the world and it’s just great for horse racing.”

Most racing drivers have little time for the phrase “female jockeys” as they are all just jockeys, though Blackmore realized that she would always be the first to win the national.

“Ah, look, it’s great, but I won’t be the last. I’m still happy for myself,” she said.

“I just hope it shows that it doesn’t matter male or female. A lot of people went before me and did that – Katie Walsh was third here on Seabass. All of those things help girls keep up, but I don’t think so.” that it is so. ” one more important topic of conversation. “

It was a surreal and privileged position to be among the limited media allowed to attend the Cheltenham and Aintree meetings where the audience was absent due to the Covid-19 protocols.

This enabled me to go all the way and personally say “well done” to Blackmore as the meeting’s lead jockey returned on all six of their winners at the Cheltenham Festival.

“Thank you, thank you,” she replied on horseback with a smile.

When I reminded her on Saturday night, she said, “I never get tired of saying ‘thank you’ after winning.”

Blackmore may have smashed the glass ceiling as she moved away from her rivals, but she is unlikely to outdo herself.


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