Rachael Blackmore seeks to make further history in Gold Cup

First woman to win Champion Hurdle could also become first woman to claim Gold Cup

Rachael Blackmore bids to become the first jockey in 24 years to complete the Champion Hurdle-Gold Cup double at Cheltenham on Friday.

Tony McCoy managed it in 1997. Two years before that Norman Williamson did the same.

The scale of the task though is indicated by a long gap back to the previous rider to land Cheltenham's two greatest prizes in the same week, the legendary Fred Winter in 1961.

It is a feat that represents the pinnacle of the sport, one that eluded stellar names like Ruby Walsh and John Francome.


Considering how up to very recently such an accomplishment seemed so unlikely for any woman, the potential impact should Blackmore succeed is as incalculable as it incomparable.

Assured of seminal status even before Honeysuckle’s Champion Hurdle victory on Tuesday, Blackmore has even more history in her grasp.

The first woman to win a Champion Hurdle could also become the first to ride a Gold Cup winner when she teams up with A Plus Tard in steeplechasing’s “Blue Riband”.

Racing history

Just how radically the face of this toughest of all sports has changed in such a short time is underlined by Bryony Frost lining up alongside her Irish colleague at 3.05 on Friday.

The Englishwoman rides the King George winner Frodon in a race so full of potential significance that a different slice of racing history is fighting for prominence.

Ordinarily Al Boum Photo’s attempt to become the fifth horse to win the Gold Cup three times would put everything else in the shade.

It seems to be the Willie Mullins star's lot however to struggle in the attention stakes.

The horse described as “Joe Ordinary” by his trainer has none of the swagger of the previous hat-trick hero Best Mate, never mind the peerless presence of Arkle.

In football terms, Al Boum Photo appears more "boring James Milner" than Ronaldo or Pele.

However, should he pull off what only Golden Miller and Cottage Rake also managed he will have earned himself a slot in the most elite company.

Not even the greatest of modern greats, Kauto Star, could manage three in a row and ultimately there’s no greater regard in racing than for the horse that keeps on winning.

Having proved he can win a Gold Cup off a strong pace or a slow one, on soft ground or quicker, Al Boum Photo sets the standard.

Once again Mullins has adopted a softly-softly approach to getting here with just a single spin at Tramore on New Year's Day to prepare.

Such a policy helped Best Mate pull off the hat-trick in 2004.

Al Boum Photo hasn’t captured the public imagination the same way as him. But he is officially rated the same as Best Mate 17 years ago, proof perhaps of how popularity is no barometer to performance.

There is plenty public affection for the 2018 hero Native River who always runs his heart out but would surely prefer a much softer surface.

The Frodon-Frost story is bound to ensure popular support too as trainer Paul Nicholls tries to emulate Tom Dreaper's record five wins in the race.

Under the radar

Even his name alone will ensure that Champ, the new kid on the Gold Cup block, has his casual supporters.

However, should it come down to a finish between Al Boum Photo and A Plus Tard it will be a matter of what kind of history is made.

The focus on Blackmore inevitably means that A Plus Tard’s trainer Henry de Bromhead moves comparatively under the radar.

That’s despite the prospect of a notable hat-trick of his own on the back of Honeysuckle and Put The Kettle On’s Champion Chase this week.

Under the radar seems to be Al Boum Photo’s default setting. But there is nothing coincidental about a triple-Gold Cup winner.

He might be “ordinary” in his everyday outlook but only the most substantial talents can win the ultimate prize three times.

The substance of A Plus Tard’s form makes him a worthy challenger.

A Grade One winner at two and three miles, he is a proven festival winner. And he has a jockey on his back who has overcome obstacles much higher than the 22 fences to be jumped in this Gold Cup.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column