Rachael Blackmore’s ground-breaking exploits may not be over this season
National winner has momentum to catch Townend in race to be champion jockey
Rachael Blackmore and trainer Henry De Bromhead celebrate with the trophy after winning the Randox Grand National Handicap Chase at Aintree Racecourse. Photograph: Tim Goode/PA Wire
After her historic success in Saturday’s Randox Aintree Grand National, and being crowned top jockey at the Cheltenham festival, Rachael Blackmore’s ground-breaking exploits may not be over this season.
Blackmore trails her rival Paul Townend by 10 winners (95-85) in the race to be champion jockey when the Irish season ends at the Punchestown festival on May 1st.
A contest that looked all but over was reinvigorated when Townend sustained a foot injury at Fairyhouse last week. Amid some confusion as to the extent of the injury, Townend is set to have a scan at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin on Monday.
Reports that he has fractured a bone in his foot haven’t been confirmed. However, Ruby Walsh, Townend’s friend and predecessor as Willie Mullins’s number one jockey, suggested last week it may be a metatarsal problem.
With the might of the Mullins team behind him, Townend will be anxious in particular to get back in time for the Punchestown festival which starts in just over a fortnight.
However, there are seven National Hunt fixtures remaining in Ireland prior to Punchestown, the first of them at Fairyhouse on Tuesday where Blackmore has five rides and an opportunity to close the gap on her rival.
She has the momentum of a ground-breaking campaign behind her to keep the title race alive and make a late dash for what would be a historic jockey’s championship.
As Blackmore came to grips with worldwide acclaim on Sunday, it was confirmed that her partner in history, Minella Times, can look forward to a well-earned summer break.
However, Henry De Bromhead will be fundamental to any late title challenge thrown down by his jockey.
In the context of the significance of who ride the winner, the Co Waterford trainer’s feat in saddling the National 1-2 inevitably struggled for the spotlight on Saturday.
Nevertheless on the back of winning the three major prizes at the Cheltenham festival – the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup - his feat in completing a “Grand Slam” of jump racing’s biggest races is unparalleled.
“It feels amazing, it really does – it’s incredible. It’s stuff you dream of. I’ve been watching it since I was a kid. It’s amazing, I’m just so lucky,” he said.
“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.
What has remained unchanged all season is the remarkable big-race strike rate of the Blackmore-De Bromhead partnership.
“I’m so lucky to be riding these horses for Henry. He trained a 1-2 which is incredible. That can’t be forgotten in the whole scheme of things,” Blackmore was quick to remind everyone.
However, there was no shaking the woman of the hour from centre stage after a milestone moment in sporting history.
Katie Walsh’s third on Seabass in 2012 had been the previous best result in the National for a woman and she was among the first to congratulate Blackmore.
“It’s huge. It is the first woman to win the National. It’s history. But I suppose this has been coming over time,” Walsh said after her father’s big-race hope, Any Second Now, finished third after being badly hampered by a faller.
“I’m delighted for Rachael. She’s an inspiration to male and female jockeys and she’s inspiring. The result couldn’t have been any better.
“She’s a star. She’s so tactically aware, she’s as hard as nails, both mentally and physically, she can take the ups and the downs and she deserves it. This isn’t just pot luck or a flue. She’s worked hard to get this and she deserves it,” she added.
As Blackmore readies herself for the season run-in, Minella Times can look forward to a summer at JP McManus’s Martinstown Stud.
The owner’s racing manager, Frank Berry, said on Sunday: “You won’t see him again this year. He’ll have a good summer in Martinstown and we’ll plan next year’s campaign for him after that.
“It [the 2022 National] is a long time away but you’d love to think he’ll be back there again.”
A multiple former champion jockey himself, Berry was quick to praise Blackmore and added: “Rachael has done it the hard way. She came from the bottom up and has worked really hard. It’s great to see her getting on good horses and she’s delivering the goods.”