Ruby Walsh: You are Rachael Blackmore. You are a Grand National winner. But most of all, you are a brilliant jockey

Rachael Blackmore can do it all: Park physical pain, take the pressure of setbacks and defeats, and carry on delivering
Ruby Walsh: You are Rachael Blackmore. You are a Grand National winner. But most of all, you are a brilliant jockey

LANDMARK MOMENT: Minella Times and Rachael Blackmore make Grand National history at Aintree. Tactical awareness, judgement of pace, and conviction in her own plans led to Saturday’s historic success, writes our columnist. Picture: Healy Racing

There’s no point in now telling lies: I wasn’t part of the Rachael Blackmore brains trust that advised the relatively unsuccessful amateur to turn professional at the age of 25, to try her hand at a profession which would require as much mental toughness as most other people think it requires physical resilience.

I wasn’t one of the few who spotted the talent and, being honest, until we crossed paths in her first season as a claiming professional, I only knew her as Miss R Blackmore on the racecards, riding occasionally for John “Shark” Hanlon.

She says she turned professional because she had nothing to lose, but I don’t buy that.

A young woman fresh out of college had as much to lose as she was ever likely to gain. But I guess there was the mentality and outlook that we are all seeing now.

The will to try, the belief to keep trying, the state of mind to recognise improvement will always be needed, and the ability to be self-critical, but not to the point of self-doubt, are not strengths all people possess.

Even if they sound simple, the easy things are always the hardest.

I will also freely admit I was never sure — nor am I still — that being a professional jump jockey is a trade for every female because, simply, it is not one for every male either. Winning is magnificent, but the only guarantees any jockey has is that they will lose more than they win and will hit the ground on average once in every 19 rides.

Anthony McCoy is the winning-most and losing-most National Hunt jockey of all time; Richard Johnson is second in both; I am third. One comes with the other, and you can do the maths for how many falls each of us had.

The physical pain of anything in life leaves you quickly, it is what affect it has on you mentally that will determine what course of action you take.

It is those individuals who repeatedly pick themselves up and go again that I admire most.

For me, this is where Rachael Blackmore breaks the mould.

Some of the most talented horse people in the world have been female, but in a sport where two ambulances follow you around every day, it is the sheer strength of will she has to pick herself off the floor and go again that amazes me.

There is no doubt she has ridden her way to the top of the tree, helped by the support of many, but given the opportunity to ride better horses by Gigginstown House Stud, firstly, and Henry de Bromhead, secondly, that has pushed her to where she is now.

When I was given my last champion jockey’s trophy, in 2017, I stood beside her on the podium at Punchestown as she was crowned champion conditional and even from then to now, she is unrecognisable.

Her progress in the finer details of race-riding has been on a trajectory that economists would love, but even since Honeysuckle in the 2020 Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham to Honeysuckle in the 2021 Champion Hurdle, Rachael has further harnessed the skills of race-riding.

Tactical awareness, judgement of pace, and conviction in her own plans led to Saturday at Aintree, where, by the time she crossed back over the Melling Road after jumping just 12 of the 30 fences in the world’s greatest steeplechase, she was singing off her own hymn sheet, situated exactly here she wanted to be, just lengths behind the leader, Jett, close to the favourite, Cloth Cap, and beside her housemate, Patrick Mullins, who was on Burrows Saint.

From there, she negotiated her way over The Chair and set off on what must have been the most thrilling two miles of her life as, with each fence jumped thereafter, she felt the reality of winning the Grand National grow greater.

From the elbow she knew she would win. What she felt then was the excitement of a lifetime’s ambition becoming reality.

Indescribable, but what she didn’t yet feel like she had accomplished was the breaking of the highest glass ceiling in National Hunt racing.

A woman had finally ridden the winner of the Grand National.

No ordinary person, either, because whilst she undoubtedly has the physical strength, it is the mental courage of any top sports person that she has too.

I know from looking at her that physically, as I did myself, she aches at the minute when she gets a fall, but no-one outside of Rachael’s world will even notice that.

Her achievements at Cheltenham and on Saturday at Aintree have been earned whilst parking pain in some far-flung corner of her brain.

I watched her fall from Plan Of Attack at an empty Prestbury Park an hour after Allaho won the Ryanair Chase.

I stood with David Casey, watching the screens being erected around her as the medical team attended, and we both thought something was amiss. It probably was, but she got up and walked away. When you ask her how she is, her mouth utters the words “fine, thanks” but her eyes scream otherwise, and her body just carries on because that is the price of success.

Ronan O’Gara always told me that when you miss the first penalty take the second like it’s the first. Simple logic, but try it someday when you make a mistake.

Yet, when Captain Guinness ran away with her in the Arkle, she parked it and won the Champion Hurdle an hour later.

Jason The Militant dumped her far too easily in the Aintree Hurdle on Thursday and she responded by winning the Grand National. How? Why? Because she can do it all: Park physical pain, take the pressure of setbacks and defeats,and carry on delivering.

I doubt Rachael will read this, but if you do, have a look in the mirror. You are Rachael Blackmore. You are a Grand National-winning rider. But most of all, you are a brilliant jockey.

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