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Rachael Blackmore: Historic Grand National triumph for modest trailblazer

April 11, 2021, 10:02:01 AM

Rachael Blackmore, like many other young pony riders, dreamed of winning the Grand National after seeing the film National Velvet, starring Elizabeth Taylor.

On April 10, 2021, she made her dream a reality. With a thrilling victory on Minella Times, she became the world's first female jockey to win the world's most prestigious steeplechase.

"National Velvet was certainly something we must have seen on TV when we were younger. I don't have a catchy line to go with it "She told me.

Taylor starred in the 1944 film as Velvet Brown, a 12-year-old who won the National on a gelding named The Pie but was later disqualified on a technicality.

Blackmore, a quiet yet vocal woman, had saved her 'punchy line' for shortly after crossing the finishing line on Minella Times, an 11-1 shot taught by Henry de Bromhead for owner JP McManus.

"I'm not sure whether I'm male or female right now. I don't even feel human anymore "ITV quoted the 31-year-old Irish rider as saying. "This is simply incredible."

Later, during an interview, she stopped as the enormity of her accomplishment dawned on her, took a breath, and collected herself before proceeding. After all, Wonder Woman is a human being.

She grew up riding ponies near her home in Killenaule, County Tipperary, the daughter of a dairy farmer and a schoolteacher.

Blackmore once aspired to be a veterinarian, earning a degree in equine science while still training and competing as an amateur before turning professional in 2015.

She has gone on to be a quiet pioneer, finishing in the top three in the Irish jockeys' championship for the last two seasons and is a contender for the title this time.

"My first experience of racing was watching the Grand National round a friend's house when I was about seven or eight years old, and it had that particular kind of hype," she said.

"I got my amateur jockey's license and never dreamed I'd get a seat in the race, let alone ride the winner."

"It's a one-of-a-kind race. This year, I finished 10th and had a great time. To be frank, finishing with your head in front is beyond belief."

Her life is spinning out of control. Brian Hayes, boyfriend, and Patrick Mullins, housemate, are also good jockeys.

Working with De Bromhead, who is based in Knockeen, County Waterford, has delivered plenty of major rides, including Honeysuckle, the historic Champion Hurdle winner, who was followed by Champion Chase and Gold Cup wins for the trainer.

Blackmore possesses not only talent (riding instinct, situational awareness, and finishing strength), but also a strong work ethic. She is a hard worker, having competed in more races (516 to date) than anybody else in Ireland this season.

And she has a high pain tolerance, which is important in a sport where ambulances accompany any race and crashes at 30 mph are common.

It may be too much to claim that Blackmore has rode to racing's rescue, but her happy tale comes after a difficult start to the year in which a trainer and jockey were banned after social media posts showing them posing with dead horses surfaced.

Women's performance on a level playing field against men is a tremendously promising story for the sport.

Eighteen other female jockeys have ridden in the race on a total of 35 runners, but their odds have just recently improved - 11 of the first 15 National rides for female jockeys were rated at 100-1 or higher.

The previous high was set in 2012, when Seabass placed third for Katie Walsh, who paid tribute to Blackmore.

"I'm overjoyed for Rachael," Walsh said. "This isn't a fluke or a stroke of luck; she's worked hard for it."

"She is a role model for both male and female jockeys. This is the world's most watched race, and it's fantastic for horse racing."

Most people in racing dislike the term "female jockeys" because they are all just jockeys, but Blackmore recognized she will still be the first to win the National.

"Look, it's awesome, so I won't be the one to notice. In any case, I'm overjoyed for myself "She said.

"I only think it demonstrates that it doesn't matter whether you're male or female. There have been plenty of women who have come before me and done it - Katie Walsh was seventh here on Seabass. Both of these stuff support children, but I don't think it's a big talking point any longer."

It has been a surreal and fortunate experience to be among the only media members permitted to attend the Cheltenham and Aintree sessions, where audiences have been absent due to Covid-19 procedures.

With no throngs of ecstatic punters, I was able to go to the finish line and personally congratulate Blackmore, the meeting's top jockey, who returned on all six of her winners at the Cheltenham Festival.

"Thank you, thank you," she'd say on horseback, smiling.

When I reminded her of this on Saturday evening, she said, "I'll never get tired of thanking you after winning."

Blackmore may have broken the glass ceiling by outrunning her competitors, but she is unlikely to get ahead of herself.