Ruby Walsh: Rachael Blackmore must keep focus on jockey merry-go-round after double disappointment

While there was disappointment for Blackmore, Jack Kennedy and Davy Russell will have gone to bed Tuesday night thinking the wheel had turned for them
Ruby Walsh: Rachael Blackmore must keep focus on jockey merry-go-round after double disappointment

Minella Indo and Rachael Blackmore after winning for trainer Henry de Bromhead at Navan in January 2020. Photo: Healy Racing

The jockey merry-go-round was in full flow during the week, and the emotions and pressure of what took place are feelings I most certainly do not miss. On Tuesday evening, the news broke that Jack Kennedy would retain the ride on Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Minella Indo in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase this afternoon at Down Royal.

It was hardly the shock of the century but, be under no illusion, it would still have been a disappointing blow for Rachael Blackmore. He was her ride. She won the Albert Bartlett and the Irish Daily Mirror Hurdle on him in 2019, she rode him in his three starts as a novice chaser and on four of the five occasions he raced last season.

The other was when she picked his stablemate A Plus Tard in the Gold Cup instead of Minella Indo. It turned out to be a wrong choice, and the spare rides of spare rides it became for Jack Kennedy. But Rachael had to pick one and hope it was right because getting back on the one you are perceived to be deserting is so much harder when it wins without you — and earlier this week, that looked beyond her.

With it came the news that Davy Russell would reignite his association with Envoi Allen this afternoon too. He was a different ball game for Rachael. She had only ridden him once, at Punchestown last May when he pulled up lame, but one always felt he could still be Davy’s ride.

They had enjoyed an unbeaten novice hurdle season together. A neck injury ruled Davy out of his novice chase season when Jack Kennedy took over. Rachael probably hoped that her success in the Cheveley Park silks last season and the horse being moved to the yard where she is the first jockey as a chance of getting the ride on Envoi Allen. There was no back form for her here, but she still would have hoped to get the chance.

Yet when she went to bed on Tuesday night, she did so in the knowledge that she would not be riding two of the stars on the weekend’s cards — two that she could have been riding.

All the success of last spring wouldn’t have been a comfort blanket either. Eaten bread is soon forgotten. Sport is about what’s next, not what has been, and the politics of the choices a jockey makes will have been playing on her mind. 

I can imagine — and remember — her feelings and mood, but the stark realisation is that you can do nothing but shut your mouth, keep your head down, and wait for the wheel to turn.

On the other hand, Jack and Davy will have gone to bed Tuesday night thinking the wheel had turned for them, and the bad luck injury played on both will have been a distant memory with the future looking so bright.

In a jockey’s mind anyway, one riding the current Gold Cup favourite and the other riding the potential Gold Cup challenger. Both schooled their intended mounts for Henry De Bromhead during the week, and both, it seemed, had the good grace of their boss, Gordon Elliott, to ride the rivals to his horses today.

That, of course, was until Thursday morning when Gordon’s owners decided they wanted Gordon’s jockeys, and the merry-go-round started again. Jack and Davy had to relinquish the rides on two of Henry De Bromhead’s stars to partner what appear on paper to be weaker rides for the stable that provides them with the majority of their winners.

Like Rachael on Tuesday, there was nothing they could do but keep their mouths shut and their heads down. The disappointment both are feeling won’t be shown, nor will their anger, because this is racing politics. Even when you want to or would like to, you cannot bite the hand that feeds you.

The only currency in this sport is winners, and if you are not riding them, you can’t get on the best horses. It’s the chicken and egg situation, but Rachael Blackmore has swapped places with Davy and Jack after two restless nights.

Rachael should have walked into Down Royal today wondering how to watch these superstars win without her, how she would hide her disappointment and what she might have to say to the press in response to any awkward questions.

Thursday morning’s reshuffle changed all of that: The disappointment will have been replaced with nerves. Today she will walk in thinking about winning on these horses and dealing with the pressure that brings.

Jack and Davy will both have dealt with the disappointment in their way, but I am glad I am not a jockey’s cat, and they will move on about their business. This afternoon, they will walk into Down Royal and try their best for those who pressured them to ride rather than for those they wanted to ride.

That’s the life of a jockey, and 99% of National Hunt jockeys don’t have contracts or retainers, they are only paid for the work they carry out.

Loyalty to a yard is how it works, but in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. In racing, the owner will always be king.

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