Rachael Blackmore created sporting history on Saturday on becoming the first woman to ride the Randox Aintree Grand National winner on board the Henry De Bromhead-trained Minella Times.
The woman who gave racing a vital shot in the arm when dominating last month’s Cheltenham festival created a seminal moment in sport by winning the world’s most famous steeplechase on the 11-1 shot.
In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the 173rd National, which took place behind closed doors, nevertheless conspired to become a groundbreaking moment that will resonate throughout the world.
What for so long seemed as fantastic a prospect as the plot for the 1944 movie ‘National Velvet’ turned into glorious reality as Blackmore guided Minella Times to a thrilling six-and-a-half length defeat of his 100-1 stable companion Balko Des Flos.
It secures the 31-year-old jockey an indelible spot in racing history, definitively transforming the face of a famously demanding sport in which the National has always represented the supreme challenge of horse and human.
Immediately pitched the inevitable gender question, an exultant Blackmore said: “I don’t feel male or female – I don’t even feel human! This is unbelievable.”
It was her third ride in the race, one of just 20 women in all to tackle the famous National fences since Charlotte Brew became the first to ride in the great race in 1977.
That was the year Red Rum cemented his legendary status with an unforgettable third victory, a moment now with competition for significance thanks to the National’s latest epochal winner.
“Minella Times jumped fantastically and didn’t miss a beat anywhere. When I hit the rail and I heard I was four lengths in front, I knew he was going to gallop to the line, but we all know what can happen on the run-in here. When I crossed the line, I don’t know how I felt – it’s incredible,” Blackmore said.
“I just travelled and jumped everywhere. I got a beautiful passage everywhere. He travelled really well and jumped really well. I thought jumping two out I was trying to hold on to a bit as it is a long way home.
“I’m so privileged to be getting on these horses. A massive thanks to JP McManus [owner] as well. He is an extremely special horse.
“Ruby Walsh and Katie Walsh, I’ve asked them both in the past about riding around here and they often talk about a semi-circle in front of you and I felt like I had that everywhere.
“That is what you need in a race like this, you need so much luck to get around with no one else interfering first of all. You need so much to go right and things went right for me today. I feel so incredibly lucky,” she added.
Minella Times was a 28th Grand National winner trained in Ireland and at a time of unprecedented Irish dominance of the sport generally led home a clean sweep for the raiders of the first five places.
Any Second Now, who carried McManus’s first colours, overcame being badly hampered by a faller to finish third at 15-2 while Burrows Saint was fourth at 9-1. Farclas was fifth at 16-1.
The 50-1 outsider Blaklion was the first British runner home in sixth and the only non-Irish finisher in the first 11 of the 15 finishers.
Once again, just as at Cheltenham, De Bromhead was inevitably shuffled to the sidelines in terms of focus, although this National sealed an unparalleled period of success for the Co Waterford trainer.
Minella Times’ victory completed a scarcely believable ‘Grand Slam’ of jump racing’s greatest prizes, coming on the back of his unique ‘Holy Trinity’ of the three most coveted races at last month’s Cheltenham festival.
That was when Honeysuckle, ridden by Blackmore, won the Champion Hurdle, Put The Kettle On landed the Champion Chase and Minella Indo led home his stable companion A Plus Tard in the Gold Cup.
That Gold Cup was the sole misstep by Blackmore at Cheltenham when she chose to ride the runner-up. However, another ‘Minella’ supplied the ultimate consolation for her while leading home another stunning big race 1-2 for the trainer.
“Rachael is brilliant and we are so lucky to have her. I think they broke the mould after her; she’s tough out and brilliant – what can you say?” De Bromhead said.
“You can see that when she joined us we have gone from strength to strength with her. She’s a fantastic rider, a great team player and just a lovely person to work with. She’s breaking through all the records.
“It’s amazing, it really is. The stuff you dream about. Rachael was brilliant on him, and it’s amazing to do it for the McManuses.
“We got a lot of luck all the way around, and winged fences – it’s incredible. It looked as though Rachael had it won jumping the last, but we all know how things can change,” he added.
Although owners were allowed attend Aintree, McManus wasn’t present to welcome back his second National winner in the emotional circumstances of his daughter-in-law Emma dying in December.
Another of his runners, The Long Mile, sadly was a casualty in the race and had to be put down.
A total of 15 of the 40 starters completed the race. Just two other British-trained horses besides Blaklion were among them. The 11-2 favourite Cloth Cap was pulled up at the 28th of the 30 fences.
Saturday’s race was all about Blackmore, however. One bookmaking firm immediately made her an unbackable 1-100 favourite to be RTÉ’s sportsperson of the 2021.
However, the much longer term significance of such a seismic achievement is impossible to estimate.
“She’s got it all and she’s proved it on the biggest stage. Everyone in the world can now see it,” said racing’s most successful ever jockey, Tony McCoy, afterwards.
Since that global TV audience is estimated at 600 million the odds of such a singular success changing the face of the sport everywhere are a lot shorter than they were for so long on what once seemed an impossible outcome.
Grand National result
1st Minella Times (R Blackmore) 11-1
2nd Balko Des Flos (A Coleman) 100-1
3rd Any Second Now (MP Walsh) 15-2
4th Burrows Saint (Mr P Mullins) 9-1
5th Farclas (J Kennedy) 16-1
6th Blaklion (H Skelton) 50-1
7th Discorama (B Cooper) 16-1
8th Jett (Mr S Waley-Cohen) 80-1
Winning trainer: Henry de Bromhead