Rachael Blackmore: historic Grand National triumph for a modest pioneer

Winning Coach Henry De Bromhead and Winning Jockey Rachael Blackmore

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

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

On April 10, 2021, she made fantasy come true. The first female jockey to triumph in the world’s most famous steeplechase, with a touching victory at the Minella Times.

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

The iconic 1944 film saw Taylor play 12-year-old Velvet Brown, who won the National over a gelding called The Pie, but was later disqualified for technical reasons.

Blackmore, a quiet but articulate person, had saved his “hard-hitting line” shortly after crossing the finish line on 11-1 chance Minella Times, coached by Henry de Bromhead.

“I don’t feel like a man or a woman at the moment. I don’t even feel human, ”the 31-year-old Irish driver told ITV. “It’s just amazing. “

A little later, she paused during an interview as the scale of her feat kicked in, took a breath and calmed down before continuing. Wonder Woman is human after all.

Rachael Blackmore says winning the Grand National is ‘beyond belief’

“Beyond Belief” – The Rise of Blackmore

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

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

She has become a low-key trailblazer – finishing in the top three in the Irish Jockeys Championship over the past two seasons and has a chance to win the title this time around.

“My first memory of racing was when I was about seven or eight years old watching the Grand National go around a friend’s house and there was that kind of special hype,” she said. .

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

“It’s such a special race. I finished 10th last year and got a kick. To be honest, ending up with your head ahead is amazing. “

His world is racing. Her boyfriend Brian Hayes and roommate Patrick Mullins are both successful jockeys.

Teaming up with De Bromhead, who is based in Knockeen, Co. Waterford, provided many big winners, including Honeysuckle, the overwhelming Champion Hurdle winner who the coach followed with victories from Champion Chase and the Gold Cup. .

Blackmore has the talent – driving instinct, tactical awareness, strength in a finish – but also the work ethic. She is a grafter, doing more races than anyone in Ireland this season.

And she has a high pain threshold, a big plus in a sport where ambulances follow every run and 30mph drops are a way of life.

The partnership between De Bromhead and Blackmore has been a huge success

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

It might be an exaggeration to say that Blackmore came to the race’s rescue, but her good story comes after a troubled start to the year where a trainer and jockey were banned after social media posts emerged. of them posing with dead horses.

The success of women, competing on an equal footing with men, is a hugely positive story for sport.

Flat jockey Hollie Doyle finished third in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award in December, while Bryony Frost was the first woman to ride the winner of the King George VI Chase at Kempton in his victory aboard Frodo.

“It means everything, it really is, it’s even hard to figure it out right now,” Blackmore said.

“It’s just an amazing feeling but you just can’t really believe yourself before you cross the line. “

Women weren’t allowed to compete at the National in the 1970s until Charlotte Brew first took on a 200-1 underdog 44 years ago.

The best precedent came when Seabass finished third in 2012 for Katie Walsh, who paid tribute to Blackmore.

“I’m thrilled for Rachael,” Walsh said. “It’s not just luck or fluke, she worked hard to achieve it.

“She is a source of inspiration for both male and female jockeys. It’s the most watched race in the world and it’s just great for horse racing. “

Most races have little time for the phrase “female jockeys” as they are only jockeys, although Blackmore acknowledged that she would always be the first to win the National.

“Ah, look, that’s great, but I won’t be the last. I’m delighted with myself anyway, ”she says.

“I just hope that shows it doesn’t matter, male or female. A lot of people came before me and did – Katie Walsh was third here on Seabass. All of these things help the girls to come, but I don’t think that’s a major talking point. ”

It was a surreal and privileged position to be part of the limited media allowed to attend the Cheltenham and Aintree meetings, where spectators were absent due to Covid-19 protocols.

Without a crowd of exuberant punters, it allowed me to go to the finish line and personally say ‘well done’ to Blackmore as she looked back on her six winners at the Cheltenham Festival.

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

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

Blackmore may have shattered the glass ceiling avoiding her rivals, but she’s unlikely to get ahead.

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