Rachael Blackmore. Bona fide top-class jockey, bona fide history maker. A perfectly executed ride aboard the Henry de Bromhead-trained Minella Times earned her the place as the first lady rider to win the Randox Health Aintree Grand National, and it was little more than we have come to expect from the Tipperary native who has long since proven her ability to compete with the men.
What has changed in recent times is that she is beating them more often. So often, in fact, for those who work within the sport on a daily basis, her gender is not a talking point.
And hasn’t been for some time.
Just three short weeks ago, she admitted to “pinching herself” after she became the first female jockey to be leading rider at the Cheltenham Festival.
Winning the Champion Hurdle on Honeysuckle was a dream, having five more winners at the meeting utterly remarkable.
A touch overwhelmed, considerably understated, and always oozing a touch of class, the 31-year-old has that drive, determination, and talent which her seen her rise to the very top of the sport. Her ability not only to bounce back but to push forward in that ceaseless endeavour to get better has culminated in a season, and a moment, she will never forget.
From a farming background, though with no tangible connection to the world of horse racing, a young Blackmore developed a single-minded passion for National Hunt racing which brought her through pony club, the point to point fields and to the summit of the track discipline.
In a short but revealing interview with P2P.ie, some ten years ago, Blackmore, who was then studying Equine Science through the University of Limerick, was asked if she could see herself continuing with horses full-time.
With a smile on her face, which might have been mistaken for an acceptance of the inevitable, she replied: “I could see myself working with horses but, in relation to riding, I mean everyone kind of runs out at some stage – you have to be really good to last the time.”
Really good, eh? Had she already thrown down the gauntlet to herself? Blackmore, as we would learn, likes nothing more than to push the boundaries of expectation.
Minella Times’ winning trainer, Henry de Bromhead, shares in the success of Blackmore’s career, having given her the opportunity to join his powerful Knockeen, Co Waterford, yard many years ago and continued to put his faith in her.
He had his Cheltenham charges in the form of their life, as he had Minella Times and, indeed, yesterday’s runner-up, Balko Des Flos. But racing is never an individual sport. All the work that has been done through any horse’s career can be undone if any of the cogs in the wheel fail to perform. He knows he has a rider he can rely upon.
Like Cheltenham, Saturday’s success brought Blackmore’s brilliance to a wider audience.
“It’s a big deal,” she said, though quickly admitted she was unsure quite what it might mean. “I don’t know how to put the big deal into words, but I’m just delighted to have won the Aintree Grand National.”
We, as an industry and a sport which has been through some difficult times, could hardly agree more.