Rachael Blackmore’s Grand National victory resonates around the world
Win on Minella Times at Aintree caps a fine season which has transformed the sport
Rachael Blackmore celebrates winning the Grand National on Minella Times. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/PA
Ringo inadvertently dropped the ‘a’ from the Irishwoman’s name. But a ‘v’ for victory from a Beatle indicates the sweeping impact of Saturday’s epic success around the world.
An estimated global TV audience of 600 million watched the first woman to ride the winner of racing’s most famous and gruelling contest.
An accomplishment that not so long ago might have seemed as fantastic as the plot to the 1944 movie ‘National Velvet’ has seen the 31-year-old rider from Co Tipperary capture the public imagination.
Like ‘Frankie’ or ‘Ruby,’ or maybe even ‘Lester’ to an older generation, she has become a racing figure whose forename is recognition enough.
For a sport that only weeks ago was battling the reputational damage from the Gordon Elliott ‘photo’ controversy, Blackmore’s pioneering exploits have proved a godsend.
Even bookmakers paying out on Minella Times’ hugely popular 11-1 success admitted they were doing so with a smile since the story is worth its weight in gold to racing.
An Taoiseach Micheál Martin described Saturday’s win as “a truly amazing achievement.” President Michael D Higgins called it “historic.”
The long-term impact of Blackmore’s accomplishment will resonate with countless others and reverberate throughout sport for years to come. But an immediate outcome is to make any gender debate within racing redundant.
Unlike other sports in racing no allowances have ever been made for sex.
Considering it is less than 50 years since women were allowed ride in races in Ireland there had once been a valid case to be made for the introduction of measures simply to encourage more opportunities for female jockeys.
However Blackmore, just the second woman ever to turn professional in Ireland, has transformed the face of the sport forever.
Only 20 women have ridden in the biggest and most high profile race of all since Charlotte Brew was the first to ride in the Grand National in 1977.
That year memorably saw Red Rum win for the third time. Saturday’s outcome bears comparison with any National result in its 173 history.
The woman at the centre of it all seemed more overwhelmed than anyone, struggling to come to terms with the significance of what she’d done.
“I can’t believe I’m Rachael Blackmore - I can’t believe I’m me!” she said. “This race is the one that catches every young person with a pony’s imagination. It’s just phenomenal. To actually fulfil something like this is unbelievable.”
Blackmore’s achievement prevented the scale of Henry De Bromhead’s own exploits from being centre-stage although, like at Cheltenham, the Co Waterford trainer was happy to concede the spotlight to his jockey.
“I’m absolutely delighted for Rachael. It’s brilliant for her and no one deserves it more,” he said on Sunday having travelled back from Liverpool with the 28th Irish trained Grand National winner.
That Minella Times was accompanied by his stable companion and runner up, Balko Des Flos, underlined De Bromhead’s superb achievement.
It added to his ‘Holy Trinity’ hat-trick of the three main races at last month’s Cheltenham festival and completed a ‘Grand Slam’ of jump racing’s biggest prizes.
Saturday’s race also saw an unprecedented level of Irish dominance generally in the National. Only Blaklion in sixth interrupted an otherwise all-Irish list of the top 11 finishers.
It continued a miserable run for British trained hopes in the big festivals although there was unanimity that this was a National result that was good for racing everywhere.
“It’s a brilliant thing for horseracing that she’s won. She’s an amazing rider and she proved that at Cheltenham. To win the biggest horse race in the world is great for her but it’s brilliant for the sport as well.
“It gives any young girl hope of winning the biggest race in the world and winning any race for that matter. She can do it all,” said the most successful jockey of all, Tony McCoy.