Pioneering Blackmore setting the bar ever higher
On Saturday afternoon Rachael Blackmore created her latest piece of racing history by becoming the first female rider to win the Aintree Grand National.
Her ride on Minella Times was a perfect Aintree story – never far off the pace, saving ground along the rail and inching to the front at just the right time before decisively clearing away on the run to the elbow and having the famous race in the bag from there.
For Blackmore – and trainer Henry De Bromhead – it completed a fabulous few weeks after their Cheltenham Festival heroics. She is now the undoubted ‘Queen of Jumps racing’ and a bright beacon for her sport after the dark clouds that circled over racing earlier this spring.
— Blue Blood Racing (@BlueBloodRacing) March 12, 2019
No shortage of ‘firsts’ for Rachael
Blackmore has a history of ground-breaking achievements, so being first to do something isn’t an idea she’s ever been averse to.
Back in March 2015, Blackmore made her decision to turn professional. After riding in point-to-points and on the track as an amateur for over five years, she had just seven winners under rules and 11 point-to-point winners on her CV, ensuring many industry eyebrows would have been raised at the decision to go pro.
The likes of Nina Carberry and Katie Walsh resisted such a move, despite both coming from ‘racing families’. More doors might logically have opened for that duo, but Blackmore’s single-handed determination to succeed ensured she had no doubts. When she made her move, she was the first Irish female jump jockey to turn professional in 30 years.
In 2017 she was the first female jockey to be crowned Champion Conditional Rider in Ireland, a landmark achievement.
Having rode her first winner for ‘Shark’ Hanlon at Thurles in February 2011 – the trainer who was such an ally in her early career – he fittingly provided her with a first professional victory too at Clonmel on September 3, 2015 on Most Honourable.
That season as Champion Conditional was crowned with victory on Abolitionist in the 2017 Leinster National Handicap Chase.
Her first Cheltenham Festival winner came on A Plus Tard in 2019 for De Bromhead and, that same season, she brought 50/1 chance Minella Indo home in front to win the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle – her first Grade 1 success.
Having won the Mares’ Hurdle on Honeysuckle in 2020, the partnership struck Champion Hurdle glory last month in the Cotswolds, as Blackmore the first female rider to win any of Cheltenham’s championship races.
A stunning week in the Cotswolds saw her crowned leading rider at the Festival – another first – though she did suffer one setback when A Plus Tard was second in the Gold Cup behind stablemate Minella Indo – a rare wrong step for the jockey.
And then to Aintree, and the ultimate ‘first’ in the Grand National itself. Blackmore’s achievement in the great race made front and back-page headlines right around the world. Her status is elevated to superstardom but, as her interviews post-race illustrated, modesty is her first point of call.
Risen to the top
The daughter of a dairy farmer and a school teacher, Blackmore wasn’t destined for a career in racing but a school trip from her home in Tipperary to visit three-time Champion Hurdle winner Istabraq has been cited by her as the moment she first fell for racing.
After grafting as an amateur rider, whilst studying for a degree in Equine Science, her talents saw her get more opportunities within Irish jumps racing and, eventually, a link-up with De Bromhead that would ultimately change both their careers dramatically.
Her new-found status is no shock to those that have been following her career closely and this season may not be done yet in terms of ‘famous firsts’.
With Paul Townend currently sidelined by injury, Blackmore could overhaul him to be crowned champion jumps’ jockey in Ireland on May 1st. Needless to add, it’s not something a female rider has managed before, but it is right within her grasp now. It’s not something she’s going to fret over, seemingly.
“I never set myself massive targets and I’m not going to start now – I just have to take every day as it comes, try to get the best out of every horse each day,” she told BBC Radio.
“Racing keeps you grounded – it doesn’t let you get carried away. You might have ridden a winner, but then in the next race you get unseated at the first.”
No barriers for women in racing
Understandably given her growing list of achievements, Blackmore is the highest-profile flag bearer for women in racing. She is well known for her eagerness to disregard gender in those terms, but says racing should be proud of the fact that male and female can compete on a level playing field.
“For me, in racing, the gender thing was never an issue – and I’ve just carried that forward,” she added.
“There’s no taking away from the fact that it wasn’t that long ago people were saying women shouldn’t ride in the National – but personally it’s never been an experience I’ve had, and it should be something that racing is very proud of.”
Find Rachael and the other top placed Grand National Runners and Jockeys here.