Grand National Queen
Fantasy no more: Rachael Blackmore first woman to win Grand NationalTuesday, April 13, 2021
A Hollywood fantasy turned into reality on Saturday (April 10) when Rachael Blackmore became the first female jockey to win Britain's grueling Grand National horse race, breaking down one of the biggest gender barriers in sports.
Blackmore, a 31-year-old Irishwoman, rode Minella Times to a landmark victory at odds of 11-1 in the 173rd edition of the famous steeplechase at Aintree in Liverpool, north-west England.
“I don't feel male or female right now. I don't even feel human,” Blackmore said. “This is just unbelievable.”
Blackmore is the 20th female jockey to compete in a race that has been a mud-splattered British sporting institution since 1839. Women have only been allowed to enter the National as jockeys since 1975, making it a male-dominated event — until now.
“I never even imagined I'd get a ride in this race, never mind get my hands on the trophy,” Blackmore said.
After all, the 1944 Hollywood movie National Velvet was the story of a 12-year-old girl, Velvet Brown — played by a young Elizabeth Taylor — who won the Grand National on The Pie, a gelding she won in a raffle and one she decided to train for the world's biggest horse race. In the story Brown was later disqualified on a technicality, having dismounted before reaching the enclosure.
Even though Aintree was without racegoers because of the pandemic, cheers rang out as Blackmore made her way off the course — still aboard Minella Times — and into the winners' enclosure. She looked as if she couldn't believe what she had done.
“For all the girls who watched National Velvet!” tweeted Hayley Turner, a former female jockey. “Thank you, Rachael Blackmore, we're so lucky to have you.”
Blackmore, the daughter of a dairy farmer and schoolteacher, grew up on a farm and rode ponies. She didn't have a classic racing upbringing, though, making her ascent in the sport all the more inspirational.
A professional jockey since 2015, she rode the second most winners in Irish jump racing in 2018-19, the same season she won her first races at the prestigious Cheltenham Festival. She was already the face of British and Irish horse racing before arriving at Aintree, having become the first woman to finish as the leading jockey at Cheltenham three weeks ago.
Now she's won the biggest race of them all, one that even non-horse racing enthusiasts turn on to watch and one that first captured Blackmore's imagination. Indeed, her first memory of horse racing is going over to a friend's house and taking part in a sweepstake for the National.
A beaming Blackmore had special words for her parents, who “took me around the country riding ponies when I was younger”.
“I can't believe I am Rachael Blackmore. I still feel like that little kid — I just can't believe I am me,” she said.
“I hope it does help anyone who wants to be a jockey. I never thought this would be possible for me. I didn't dream of making a career as a jockey because I never thought it could happen.”
The previous best performance by a female jockey in the National was Katie Walsh's third-place finish on Seabass in 2012. That always looked under threat by Minella Times, who went out as the fourth favourite of the 40 horses in a race run over 4 1/4 miles (6.4 kilometres) and features 30 big and often brutal fences.
Minella Times was always near the front of the field and Blackmore timed the horse's run for glory to perfection, easing past long-time leader Jett with around three fences to jump.
The famous, draining run to the line — about 500 metres from the last fence — was a procession as Minella Times won by 6 1/2 lengths.
“He was just incredible and jumped beautifully,” Blackmore said. “I tried to wait as long as I could. When I jumped the last and asked him for a bit, he was there.”
One of the other two female jockeys in the race, Bryony Frost, was taken to the hospital after being unseated from her horse, Yala Enki.
For trainer Henry de Bromhead it also completed an incredible run, having become the first trainer to win the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
Sadly for Blackmore and de Bromhead their extraordinary achievement was behind closed doors, with spectators barred due to coronavirus protocols.
Blackmore went into the lead two from home but was under pressure from Balko des Flos.
However, Minella Times was not stopping and passed the winning post with Blackmore standing up in the saddle and yelling.
Blackmore had to come back down to earth as she had a ride in the last but admitted things were a blur.
De Bromhead, a self-confessed pessimist, also emulated his one-two in the Gold Cup with a one-two in the National as Balka des Flos finished second.
“It feels amazing. It is something you dream of,” he said.
“Rachael was brilliant, she kept him on the inside the whole way round. She is special.”
De Bromhead, 47, remained his usual calm self, a thumbs up post the 1-2 the only gesture of celebration.
“I think it is surreal. I am sorry but I use the same words only that I have no other vocabulary for it,” said de Bromhead.
“But in all seriousness she rode herself to this success, she kept on getting winners, and it is her ability that got her here.”
Blackmore's success earned a warm tribute from Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin.
“A truly amazing achievement again @rachaelblackmor —Ireland is so proud of you becoming the first woman to win the #GrandNational,” he tweeted.
“A historic few weeks that will live long in the memory.”
The Irish repeated their dominance of Cheltenham as the first five were all trained in Ireland.
Any Second Now, carrying the same colours of winning owner JP McManus, was third, having been badly hampered by Double Shuffle when he fell on the first circuit.
Favourite backers had hopes for a while with Cloth Cap prominent, but a mistake at the 26th fence saw him pulled up before the next.
McManus also saw the downside of the sport as one of his seven runners, The Long Mile, had to be put down.
Katie Walsh said Blackmore was “remarkable”.
“She works so hard and is an inspiration for women and for men,” she told the BBC.
“She has taken some terrible falls and bounced back, she really is an animal. The mental strength she has is something to behold.”
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