It is hard to understand how Rachael Blackmore overtaking Paul Townend in the jockeys’ championship at the end of last week went so unnoticed. Can you imagine a lady in any other sport competing against her male counterparts on an equal basis not garnering any headlines for taking the lead in that sport’s current championship campaign?
Paul rode a double at Thurles to put himself back one in front and both drew a blank at Gowran on Thursday before Friday’s action kicked off at Navan where he had two rides and Rachael only had the one.
The score in this season’s jockeys’ championship is 72 to Paul versus 71 for Rachael, but that only tells a little of the story that is unfolding. So far this season Rachael has had 204 more individual rides than Paul, maybe a portion of that could be by choice, but it also shows the willingness of trainers to use Rachael whenever she is available.
She is the only rider licensed in this country to have had more than 400 rides this season, making her the busiest with 416 rides, 37 more than her closest pursuer on the riding front, Phillip Enright, who has 369, with Sean Flanagan, Sean O’Keefe and Simon Torrens being the only others to have had over 300 rides.
Having had so many rides, Rachael’s strike rate is exactly half of what Paul Townend’s is. Paul is operating at an incredible 34% with Rachel at a respectable 17%, and both are the only riders to have won more than €1 million in prize money, Paul with €1.5m and Rachael €1.2m.
It is in the figures for their respective bosses that the biggest difference between them is evident. Paul is 67 from 171 for Willie, and Rachael is 50 from 281 for Henry de Bromhead.
I could barely believe the number of actual rides Rachael has had for Henry, some 110 more than Paul has had for Willie, but it is her ability to find outside winners that could prove to be her biggest asset in her bid to become the first lady to be crowned champion jockey.
Paul has only five winners outside his main supply from Willie, showing his reliance on his stable, whereas Rachael has found 21 outside of Henry’s.
Whilst there is little doubt some of the festivals where Willie Mullins horses seem to outrun everyone else’s are still to come, this time of year will also pose more choices and decisions for Paul to make as Willie’s horses start to clash. Just being on the correct one becomes a challenge, so even if Willie’s horses maintain their form, it won’t guarantee the same return for Paul.
The battle that could ensue between these two jockeys could be the good news story racing is looking for right now as the actions of the minority still drag the game’s reputation through the dirt. Here is hoping this battle rolls to Punchestown in April because, for all that racing is perceived to be doing wrong, at least the split between male and female seems to have been bridged.
Again, the weather has had its say on this weekend’s action, with Cheltenham cancelled and Fairyhouse subject to an early morning inpection, but at least Doncaster, where Shishkin bids to extend his unbeaten run over fence to three, is on.
Last year’s Supreme Novice Hurdle winner has looked like the Arkle winner in the making since his Kempton debut over the larger obstacles and I expect him to blow his four rivals away today at 1.30.
On home soil, Naas takes centre stage tomorrow with the Limestone Lad hurdle and the Naas Racecourse Business Club Novice Chase the main events. Bachasson represents Willie Mullins in the first, but Noel Meade’s Beacon Edge could be hard to beat at the minimum trip.
Pencilfulloflead found Colreevy just too good for him at Christmas and stepping up to three miles tomorrow could see him regain the winning thread for Robert Power and Gordon Elliott.
El Barra, at 1.45, Glens Of Antrim, at 2.15, and Billaway, at 4.15, are good chances for Willie Mullins to maintain his recent good yard form.