Rachael Blackmore hoping to put cherry on top of season in Paris

Jockey will ride second-favourite Ajas in Grand Steeple-Chase De Paris at Auteuil

A potential cherry on top of Rachael Blackmore’s momentous 2021 campaign could come in Paris on Sunday when she bids to secure a groundbreaking success in the French Gold Cup.

Blackmore has been engaged by top French trainer David Cottin to ride Ajas in the prestigious €820,000 Grand Steeple-Chase De Paris at Auteuil.

With Cottin's stable jockey, Kevin Nabet, opting to partner the 5-2 favourite Le Berry in the gruelling marathon run over three and three quarter miles, connections have turned to Blackmore for the ride on the stable-companion and general 4-1 second-favourite.

It will be her first time to compete at the historic Auteuil course in Paris and the pioneering 31-year-old, top rider at Cheltenham in March and the first woman to ride the winner of the Aintree Grand National last month, is eagerly anticipating a brand new challenge.

“It’s very exciting. The Grand-Steep’ is a race you watch in awe of,” Blackmore said on Monday.

“I can’t be wishing for too many cherries on top but it would be incredible [to win]. It’s an honour to get asked to ride in the race. [But] I suppose the way my year is going nothing would surprise me at this stage,” she added.

The impact of travel restrictions due to Covid-19 have resulted in Willie Mullins opting not to send runners to this weekend's action at Auteuil, which also includes Saturday's French Champion Hurdle.

However, the promise of success in such a historic race as the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris makes it a worthwhile trip for Blackmore.

“The English-based and Irish-based jockeys are being treated differently so over to France is no trouble at all.

“Coming home we have to do a five-day quarantine in a hotel, then a five-day quarantine at home, but we can still go racing. We have an exemption to go racing but nothing else.

“So going over to ride in France is definitely worth it,” she said.

The seven-year-old Ajas has won five of his seven starts this season, including at Grade Two and Grade Three level over the daunting Auteuil track on his last two starts.

It is experience that Blackmore lacks, although she is busy studying course characteristics for a race that Davy Russell won two years ago at his first attempt on Carriacou, who will again line up on Sunday.

“Watching his races back, Ajas looks a lovely horse to ride and looks very straightforward. He looks to be improving with every run.

“He’s the stable second string but he doesn’t look a second string to me,” said Blackmore who is eagerly anticipating riding over the various different obstacles.

“Visually they’re massive looking. But I think riding a French horse over there is a big help. They’re used to those kind of obstacles. I’ll be getting a grasp on it all this week,” she added.

Ajas’s Swedish owner was keen to secure the services of the Irishwoman and Cottin is confident her inexperience around Auteuil won’t be a problem.

“She has shown she has huge talent. I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t work out.

“Rachael has shown she can adapt to any situation and the same is true of the horse who is a good jumper and a very straightforward ride.

“It’s a great challenge for her, for the whole yard and for the owner as well,” Cottin reported recently.

One notable Irish figure that will be absent from a bumper weekend re-jigged along the lines of the Dublin Racing Festival will be Mullins.

The champion trainer has won the French Champion Hurdle, the Grande Course De Haies D’Auteuil, five times before and has half a dozen entries left in Saturday’s €350,000 highlight.

However, Mullins said on Monday he won’t have any runners at Auteuil over the weekend.

“With the quarantine protocol coming home, I’d have too many people out of work for too long in a 10-day quarantine. So I felt until things ease we’d wait.

“When we went into the logistics of everything it was going to be too difficult, so we said we’d leave it,” he said.

The Matthew Smith-trained Ronald Pump is also among 16 entries left in the French Champion Hurdle ahead of Wednesday's supplementary stage.

Blackmore will be in action at Limerick on Tuesday evening with a single spin on Not Available in the finale.

Henry de Bromhead is wasting no time sending the half-brother to Identity Thief over fences as Not Available recent landed a maiden hurdle success at Kilbeggan on just his third career start.

Mount Melleray in the same ownership, and the decent handicap hurdle performer Everytbreathyoutake, should figure prominently too.

However , Not Available’s quick transition to fences looks significant.

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