Tipperary jockey rides into the history books at Aintree
Until Rachael Blackmore and Minella Times won the 173rd Randox Grand National at Aintree yesterday, a female riding the winner of the world’s greatest race was purely a work of fiction — Enid Bagnold’s 1935 classic National Velvet.
But fiction is now fact and after riding six winners at Cheltenham including the Champion Hurdle, 31-year-old Blackmore smashed the biggest glass ceiling just about in all sport yesterday as she rode into the history books. Now there really are no barriers, the gender discussion in the weighing room is done.
Having had a dream passage round the inside through the race and never further back than eighth, Blackmore hit the front at the second last on JP McManus’s lightly weighted eight-year-old who was sent off at 11-1, much of that money being placed on the jockey rather than the horse after being crowned leading jockey at Cheltenham.
The only horse to stick with her at the business end was the winner’s stable companion, the 100-1 shot Balko Des Flos, who was only half a length down at the last. But Minella Times stayed on strongly up the long run-in and galloped all the way to the line to come six-and-a-half lengths clear.
Any Second Now, another of McManus’s seven runners in the race but who did not have such a smooth passage as the winner, was a length and three-quarters behind Balko Des Flos in third while Burrows Saint finished fourth, running well for a long way but not quite appearing to see out the trip.
Though Blackmore will make the headlines, the horse’s Waterford trainer, Henry de Bromhead, who three weeks ago became the first man to win Cheltenham’s holy trinity of races in one hit, has also matched his one-two in the Gold Cup with a one-two in the National in the same season, surely in itself one of the greatest training feats in the history of jump racing.
Blackmore, who was a combination of dazed and emotional over her greatest victory, said: “This is so massive. I had such a beautiful passage around. Minella Times jumped fantastically and didn’t miss a beat anywhere.
“I couldn’t believe it, jumping the second-last — I don’t know, it’s just incredible. When I hit the rail and I heard I was four lengths in front, I knew he was going to gallop to the line, but we all know what can happen on the run-in here.
“He was just unbelievable. I’m riding all these horses for Henry de Bromhead who had a one-two there. A massive thanks to JP McManus as well.
“It’s a privilege to ride in those silks. The family have had a tough year [McManus’s daughter-in-law died at Christmas] and hopefully this makes it a little easier for them.
“Ruby Walsh and Katie Walsh, I’ve asked them both in the past about riding around here and they often talk about a semicircle [of space] in front of you and I felt like I had that everywhere.
“That is what you need in a race like this, you need so much luck to get around with no one else interfering first of all. You need so much to go right and things went right for me today. I feel so incredibly lucky.”
De Bromhead, who is used to celebrating great victories with a cup of tea on the ferry now, said: “It’s just brilliant, it’s all down to Rachael obviously, she was brilliant on him today, I’m just delighted — amazing, super ride, she hardly left the rail.
“She was just brilliant on him. It’s brilliant for the McManuses. Just over the moon. Balko Des Flos was super as well, Aidan [Coleman] was brilliant on him. These are the races you want to win. I feel so fortunate.
“We were a bit unfortunate with Minella Times through the winter, having a couple of great runs and just getting beaten, but this makes up for it. We schooled the horses over some Aintree-type fences — fairly makeshift things — which seemed to have helped, but Minella Times is such a good jumper anyway.”
After the de rigueur false start, the field of 40 runners were, until the second last when he ran out of steam, led by the Sam Waley-Cohen ridden Jett, who was 15 lengths clear jumping Valentine’s second time.
Cloth Cap, the 11-2 favourite, was second for a long way but he stopped quickly four out and was soon pulled up by Tom Scudamore, who reported that he had gurgled. The jockey’s date with destiny will have to wait another year.
Blackmore was one of three female riders in this year’s race. Tabitha Worsley completed the field in 14th but Bryony Frost was taken to hospital — the second Paul Nicholls jockey on the day to end up there after Harry Cobden suffered facial injuries in an earlier race — following a heavy fall from Yala Enki early on the second circuit.
She was knocked out in the fall but was conscious when taken to hospital.
She was the only human casualty. There was one equine fatality, another one of McManus’s runners, The Long Mile who was put down after breaking a leg on the flat between Becher’s second time and Foinavon’s fence.
In all, 15 runners completed the course, four fell, one was brought down with the remainder pulled up.
Despite it being the first National to be run with no crowd, it will go down as one of the most memorable.
Elizabeth Taylor played Velvet Brown in the movie but Rachael Blackmore played it in real life. Whatever she did at Cheltenham, whatever she does in the future, this trumps it.
© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2021
Telegraph Media Group Limited