TV View: After a hellish rollercoaster Blackmore rides to racing’s rescue
No comparison too grand as pundits reach for superlatives to describe Irish rider
Unless you’re of a certain vintage, you will never have heard of things called video shops. But back in the day when you went in to one to hire National Velvet, you’d most probably have found it in the Fantasy section, maybe squeezed in between The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. Next to Velvet Brown’s Grand National achievement on board The Pie, though, Dorothy and Alice’s adventures seemed much more based in reality.
Come Saturday, then, we were all in wonderland when the wizard that is Rachael Blackmore did her thing. Pure unadulterated magic.
I can’t believe I am Rachael Blackmore. I still feel like that little kid
ITV’s Luke Harvey likened her victory to Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile, but when she jumped the last and you thought she was home and hosed, only for the camera to pull out to remind you there were still 494 yards to go, it was more like a combination of watching David O’Leary take his penalty in Genoa and waiting for the verdict after Katie Taylor’s 2012 Olympic final. Tummy knotted, nerves shredded, that class of thing.
But the sight of her pulling away and the dawning realisation that she was actually going to win the Grand National would have had you multi-tasking: punching the air and crying your eyes out, all at the very same time.
If it wasn’t enough that she made history, she only went and provided two of the greater sporting quotes of our time in the aftermath.
Matt Chapman: “We know you just want to be a jockey, but ... [lady stuff]”
Rachael: “I don’t feel male or female right now, I don’t even feel human – this is just unbelievable. Unbelievable.”
Ed Chamberlin: [Talking about the number of kids who said to him after Cheltenham that when they grew up they wanted to be Rachael Blackmore].
Rachael: “I can’t believe I am Rachael Blackmore. I still feel like that little kid. I can’t believe I’m me... keep your dreams big, I suppose.”
While telly racing people dare not speak Gordon Elliott’s name this weather, the obscenity of that photo making him the sport’s persona non grata, a richly deserved status too, Chamberlin alluded to the episode by describing Blackmore as the person who “rode to racing’s rescue in Cheltenham” and a feature of their coverage all day was the emphasis on horse welfare, on how well these creatures are looked after, like they felt they still had some convincing to do.
It was with no little relief, then, that Chamberlin reckoned that the only photos appearing on front pages around the globe would be of Blackmore’s joy and a salute to the history-maker. Has any sport experienced a more undulating rollercoaster-ish trip in the space of a few weeks than horse racing? Very probably not.
“It was a joyous day,” said The Telegraph’s Paul Hayward on Sky’s Racing Debate come Sunday morning, “what that race did was to generate an incredible level of happiness”. The omnipresent Matt agreed, reckoning it would lift Britain’s spirits after the death of Prince Philip. Host Sean Boyce wasn’t convinced by that linkage, Paul neither, but you take happiness where you can find it – a bit like a bridge over, well, troubled waters.
Was that the first Nine O’Clock News on RTE in 13 months that had as its number-one story a lovely thing? Probably.
“A small village, but tonight it’s the centre of the racing universe,” said reporter Paschal Sheehy who was lurking in the dark outside the Blackmore home in Killenaule, Co Tipperary. Mercifully, Rachel’s parents, Eimir and Charles, appeared at the front door to speak to him rather than calling the gardaí, the only worry thereafter that the Jack Russell Charles had in his arms would savage Paschal’s hairy extended microphone.
Charles gave us an insight to the busyness of his daughter’s life. “I spoke to her for 40 seconds, she said ‘you’re talking to the Grand National winner, I have to go now’, she had to pack her bags.”
Onwards and upwards.
Best of all, we don’t have to rent National Velvet any more, we just need to watch replays of the 2021 Grand National. You’ll find it in the National Treasures section.