Rachael Blackmore. A sensational jockey, but not an overnight sensation. If you’ve joined the Blackmore story in recent weeks, having read about and watched her winning with regularity at Cheltenham and with authority at Aintree, you’ve missed the development of a star whose relentless pursuit of her own progress has helped to carry the sport forward.
From the days of pony club, the best part of two decades ago, to the participation in point-to-points as an aside to her studies, and then to the top of the tree of track jockeys, she has smashed every glass ceiling along the way.
From a farming background, with no discernible connection to National Hunt racing, she developed an early passion for the sport and has nurtured that with sheer hard work and determination.
And Blackmore has always been aware of what lay ahead, what it would take to make the grade.
In an early interview with p2p.ie, the best part of a decade ago, long before she would become a professional, let alone a household name, she admitted: “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.”
That short statement acknowledged her acute awareness of the task in front of her but, in there somewhere, deep within, was the determination to overcome all obstacles.
Reaching the point at which turning professional was on the agenda was an achievement in itself, taking the plunge to become the second female licence holder in the history of Irish National Hunt racing was the embodiment of courage.
Making a living in the sport is all well and good if you have the backing of one of the top yards but, as many a talented rider will bemoan, there are few of those in this country.
Being good just wouldn’t be good enough to justify Blackmore’s brave decision — and she knew that.
The Killenaule, Co Tipperary native, whose first winner was as an amateur in 2011, turned professional early in the 2015 and rode her first winner under that licence in September of that year. Less than two years later, she rode out her claim.
Shark Hanlon was instrumental in her early success, and continues to support Blackmore, but it is through her relationship with the Henry de Bromhead stable that she has really flourished.
In 2019, riding A Plus Tard, she won a novice handicap chase at the Cheltenham Festival. She wasn’t the first lady to win at the meeting but “it’s great to get a bit of what it feels like,” she said, before adding, ominously: “I’ve got the taste for it now.”
Twelve months later, she added another to the tally, with a winning ride aboard Honeysuckle in the Mares’ Hurdle which received rave reviews. A quick switch on the bend proved to be the difference between victory and defeat and, from that point, for the wider audience, Rachael’s talent, not gender, took over the conversation.
And her star would continue on the rise.
Add another 12 months to the timeline, and Blackmore returned to Cheltenham with even greater expectation on her shoulders.
Employed to ride leading fancies in many of the best races at this year’s Festival, it was time to deliver at the very top level.
Honeysuckle’s devastating display in the Champion Hurdle set the tone for the most remarkable week. Bob Olinger, Sir Gerhard, Allaho, Telmesomethinggirl, and Quilixios all followed, aided by their rider’s brilliance in the saddle. Rachael Blackmore made herself a household name, a star of the weigh-room, not a leading lady, just a leading rider.
Minella Times gave her a great spin, and vice versa.
Leading home a one-two for Knockeen, Co. Waterford trainer de Bromhead, the JP McManus-owned runner brought Blackmore’s brilliance to a wider audience.
In victory, Blackmore eclipsed the previous best performance of a lady rider, held by Grade One-winning jockey Katie Walsh, who finished third aboard Seabass in 2012.
“It’s a big deal,” she said. “I don’t know how to put the big deal into words, but I’m just delighted to have won the Aintree Grand National.”
This week, of all weeks, the gender conversation is inevitable.
Understandably, it doesn’t sit comfortably with someone who has long since proven her ability to compete on a level playing field. But in the coming days, weeks, or maybe months, that will ebb away and when it does Rachael Blackmore will still be doing what she does best: Being the complete jockey.