Rachael Blackmore, Cheltenham Gold Cup, horse racing
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Rachael Blackmore: A racing superstar

| 21.03.2022

A look at the career of Rachael Blackmore

Ruby, AP, Frankie… Only the very best and most special riders are known by just their first name and in horse racing there is only one name on people’s lips… Rachael.   

Rachael Blackmore is the reluctant heroine of the weighing room, the 32-year-old who is smashing the glass ceiling of convention to become the most successful female to hop astride a racehorse.   

Here we have taken a look at her journey to the top and some of the remarkable feats she has achieved in her career to date.   

Humble beginnings  

Blackmore is the dairy farmer’s daughter with her feet firmly on the ground. Possessing a strong work ethic instilled from birth, when once described as a star, Blackmore retorted that Beyonce was a star, she simply rides horses for a living.   

Her love of horses has always made the hard yards and early mornings worthwhile.   

She developed her competitive edge and a thirst for speed from hunting her exuberant pony ‘Bubbles’ and taking part in Pony Club games as a youngster.   

Unsatisfied by some of the more reserved, if not technically demanding, equestrian pursuits, moving onto riding racecourses was just the natural progression.   

The back-up plan  

The dream was always to be a jockey, but the reality was Blackmore was a woman hoping to tread a path in a male dominated world.   

She needed a plan and following wise counselling from those close to her, combined riding as an amateur with studying for a degree.   

A leap of faith  

Having finished her studies, but with the amateur riding scene not providing the opportunities Blackmore craved, she was faced with the prospect of abandoning her dreams of being a jockey for the security of the 9-5.   

However, encouraged by trainer ‘Shark’ Hanlon she decided to take the plunge and turn professional, riding day-to-day against the likes of Ruby Walsh, Paul Townend and Davy Russell.   

Blackmore’s first winner in the pro ranks came on September 3rd 2015 when she steered Hanlon’s Most Honourable to success at Clonmel and by the end of the 2016/17 season she had become Ireland’s first female winner of the Conditional’s jockey championship.   

Having completed her ambition of riding out her claim, it wasn’t long before she was capturing the attention of some of the biggest names in the game, soon linking up with trainer and her now long-time boss Henry De Bromhead and also being trusted by the powerful Gigginstown House Stud.   

In 2018 Blackmore had her first ride in the Grand National when partnering Gigginstown’s Alpha Des Obeaux.   

First Festival success  

At the 2018 Cheltenham Festival Blackmore had only one ride. Twelve months later she was a winner at Prestbury Park for the first time as A Plus Tard stormed up the Cheltenham hill to blitz the field in the opening day novice handicap.   

A Plus Tard, Rachael Blackmore, Cheltenham Festival, Horse racing

She then added to her tally and picked up her first Grade 1 when steering Minella Indo to a shock victory in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle in the race before the Gold Cup and in full view of the ITV Racing cameras covering the big event.   

It was also in 2018/2019 that Blackmore first linked up with Honeysuckle and the duo combined for a first of nine Grade 1 triumphs in April 2019 when scoring at Fairyhouse’s big Easter meeting.  

She finished that season with 90 winners and was third in the Irish jump-jockey’s championship.   

Cheltenham blues  

Having headed into the 2020 Cheltenham Festival as one of the favourites to pick up the leading rider award, Blackmore endured a frustrating week and was left staring longingly at what could have been.  

Following a tactical masterpiece on the opening day, when nipping up the inside of Robbie Power’s mount on Honeysuckle to get first run on hot-pot favourite Benie Des Dieux, landing the spoils in the Mares’ Hurdle, the Irish rider had to watch on as some of her big rides of the week failed to sparkle.   

Minella Indo was agonisingly hunted down on the line by Champ in a thrilling finish of the RSA Chase, while Monalee was badly hampered at a crucial stage when giving Blackmore her first Gold Cup ride.    

The Queen of Cheltenham  

On March 14th 2021 Blackmore walked out of Naas racecourse and headed for Dublin airport. Less than 48 hours later she was storming up the Cheltenham hill aboard Honeysuckle as she became the first female rider to win both the Champion Hurdle and one of Cheltenham’s daily feature races.   

That was the first of a historic six Cheltenham Festival winners in 2021 as she also became the first woman to lift the Festival’s leading rider trophy.   

Riding at least one winner every day, all six were Grade 1 prizes, with the only low point of a fantastic week for the Killenaule native coming when choosing runner-up A Plus Tard over the winner Minella Indo in the Gold Cup.   

Blackmore the history maker  

“I don’t feel male or female right now – I don’t even feel human. This is just unbelievable”  

Those were the words uttered in disbelieving hysteria by Blackmore shortly after crossing the finishing line in the Grand National as the 32-year-old became the first female rider to taste success in the world’s most famous race.  

Only the 20th woman to ride in the race, National Velvet was no longer a work of fiction as the race that stops the nation had its showstopping result to catapult racing to the front pages.   

There was no doubt that Blackmore was the star, with her willing partner Minella Times and long-time ally De Bromhead happy to take up the position of best actors in a supporting role as the Tipperary rider took all the plaudits.   

The Golden moment

Heading into the 2022 Cheltenham Festival, the stable of her boss De Bromhead was under a cloud and it was looking tough for Blackmore to eclipse her exploits of a year previous at the Festival.

However, she had a few trump cards up her sleeve, non more than the favourites for both the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup, Honeysuckle and A Plus Tard.

On the opening day of the Prestbury Park showpiece, the leading rider brought the house down as she guided her superstar mare Honeysuckle to a successful defence of her Champion Hurdle crown, returning to the winner’s enclosure to the adulation of a packed house who had missed out on celebrating with Blackmore and her willing unbeaten partner 12 months previous.

She was the recipient of the rub of the green on St Patrick’s Day as she brought up her second winner of the week aboard Bob Olinger, taking advantage of Galopin Des Champs’ final-fence stumble, but it was on the biggest day of the week, Gold Cup day, where Blackmore had her crowning moment.

A Plus Tard, Rachael Blackmore, Gold Cup, horse racing

In 2021 Blackmore had a decision to make, A Plus Tard or Minella Indo. She chose A Plus Tard and had to watch on in bitter disappointment as the horse she rejected stormed to Cheltenham Gold Cup glory.

A year later, she chose to stick with A Plus Tard and headed into the blue riband as the favourite, looking to write herself into the record books once again.

In the build-up, the chatter centred around how A Plus Tard could turn the tables on the defending champion, but Blackmore devised a plan and delivered it to perfection as the pair sauntered to an emphatic 15-length victory.

Gold Cups aren’t supposed to be won in such facile fashion and it was a ride that advertised all of Blackmore’s talents in the saddle as she became the first woman to partner a Gold Cup winner.

What makes Blackmore so special? 

Tactically astute, watching Blackmore navigate safe passage through a race is like watching a painter create a modern masterpiece. She possesses one of the finest clocks in the business, never in the wrong place at the wrong time and deadly when allowed to control matters from the front. 

The rider is also as tough as they come. You have to be strong to be a female dominating in a man’s domain and not only is she as ruthless as they come in the saddle, she has the steely resolve to bounce back from the spills and falls that come with the territory of being a jump jockey.   

Most of all is the influence of De Bromhead, the proud father figure who has helped mould Blackmore into the champion rider she is today.   

The Waterford man’s watchful gaze keeps the 32-year-old heading in the right direction, ever pumping up Blackmore’s tyres and giving her the confidence to go and express herself in her saddle.   

What next?  

Blackmore’s global appeal saw the Gold Cup broadcast on US TV for the first time in 2022 and there is no doubt that she is now well on her way to being the face of horse racing worldwide. Now a household name, she has made the transition to the front pages in a way only the likes of Red Rum and Frankie Dettori have done previously.

Time will tell how much use of her new-found fame Blackmore will make to achieve the financial security the average jump jockey isn’t afforded the luxury, but there is little to suggest her head will be turned too far from on-track matters.

Heading into the 2021/22 season, Blackmore’s focus was on getting her hands on the Gold Cup, now that is achieved her attention will turn to trying to become Champion Jockey in Ireland for the first time.

To do so she will have to overcome her great rival Townend, who has finished the last three seasons on top and is leading the way this term as well.

Toppling Townend will be no mean feat considering he has the strength of Willie Mullins behind him, but Blackmore has proved the doubters wrong more than once and it would be no surprise to see her ticking off the one last challenge she has to accomplish.   

When Alexander of Macedonia was 33, he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer. Blackmore at the age of 32 has just Ireland left to capture.   

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Adam Morgan