Five simple words summed it up. “It’s just a great day,” an elated Rachael Blackmore said as the woman who continues to hammer down boundaries reflected on another landmark achievement: Her first Cheltenham Festival winner.
History will recall that it was A Plus Tard who provided it, Henry de Bromhead’s charge running out a 16-length victory of the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase. After a shock result in the Champion Hurdle it was no surprise the victory of the 5-1 favourite in a handicap was greeted so warmly by the 67,934 people in attendance on the Festival’s opening day.
But this wasn’t just a case of punters talking through their pockets. This was a delight borne out of seeing the hardest working jockey in the business become the first professional Irish jockey to ride a winner at the Festival. The 29-year-old has been locked in battle with Paul Townend for the Irish jockeys’ Championship this season and currently trails the man from Midleton by 10 wins, 94 to 84.
She may ultimately fall short but the fact she’s very much in the title conversation at this stage of the season is a considerable achievement in itself, one driven by her relentless appetite for work. No jockey has ridden in as many races in Ireland as Blackmore’s 550 this season and the fact she has been booked for 11 rides - notably Monalee in the Ryanair Chase - between today and tomorrow speaks volumes about both her commitment and quality. To put that into context, no female jockey has previously had more than five at a single Festival. Not that Blackmore cares much for any stat other than winners.
“I’ve got the taste for it now,” she said. “This is a phenomenal place and I’m just so glad to get a bite of what it feels like. It’s fantastic to get a winner here - it’s what every jockey dreams about and I’m just so grateful to get to ride a horse like him and just steer him up the hill.”
Blackmore’s day had begun with fall from Ornua in the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase but her frustration was offset slightly by seeing Duc Des Genievres, a horse A Plus Tard had beaten in Naas in December, go on to win the prestigious Grade One.
“When Duc Des Genievres won the Arkle, that was franking my form, but I never thought I would be coming up that hill like that. It’s unbelievable. The race went perfectly. He has won incredibly well.”
Paying tribute to the winning trainer, Blackmore said: “Henry de Bromhead has put a lot of faith in me this week, considering I had never ridden a Festival winner; he’s put me up on a lot of them, including in Grade Ones, and I’m very grateful to him. It’s phenomenal. He’s been extremely good to me all year and this is a very nice horse for the future.”
For his part, De Bromhead was quick to return the compliment.
“Rachael was fantastic on him and gave him a super ride,” the Waterford trainer said. “Rachael is a brilliant jockey and we are very lucky to be associated with her. She as tough as any of them and bounces back up every time.”
That she does. It seems safe to assume her first Festival success won’t be her last. Yesterday was indeed a good day.