Blackmore unfazed by prospect of being first woman to claim National
Last week Rachael Blackmore thought she would be spending this Saturday riding in a race at Leopardstown. Instead she will be sitting astride Alpha Des Obeaux on the start line of the Grand National.
The prospect, she says, of negotiating the renowned four-plus miles across Merseyside, has sent her into a flurry of expectation.
"When I found out I was going to be riding at the National, jeez I was flying," she says, speaking from her home in Co Tipperary. "To be honest, I don't think I've come down since."
Her excitement is understandable. Never mind marking her racing debut at Aintree, Saturday will be the first time she has visited the course.
The only disappointment is that none of her family are able to come over to watch her in action.
"My folks have a beef farm in Killenaule and it's a really busy time - they're in the middle of calving," she says. "Because the news was so unexpected, it's just impossible for them to drop everything and come to watch."
It is always the way with the National: replacement riders can be called up with minimum warning. But Blackmore does not sound remotely intimidated about the prospect of riding the most demanding course in the world with so little preparation.
"You can't say it's just like any other race because obviously it isn't," she says. "But I'll try to approach it like I would any other race. I'll speak to those who have done it before and I'll walk the course.
"I'm not superstitious, so I won't be worrying about whether I'm wearing my lucky socks. You have to trust to your instincts."
There is one thing with which she is familiar: the horse. The eight-year-old Alpha Des Obeaux is owned by Michael O'Leary and trained by Mouse Morris, the pair who won the National two years ago with Rule The World. Blackmore rode the horse to sixth place in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown earlier this year.
"He's a lovely horse and we really connected there," she recalls. "I think that's what Mouse spotted when he asked me to step in last week - or was it last weekend?
"I'm that excited I've lost track of time. I'm so grateful to get this chance."
Blackmore is developing a reputation as one of the most competitive new riders in Ireland.
She certainly has taken one of the most unusual routes to the top. Brought up around horses on the farm, she was riding almost from the moment she could walk.
As a teenager, she developed a taste for competition by taking part in point-to-points. But unlike most jockeys, who are engaged at yards as soon as they can leave school, she continued her education at university.
She read Equine Science at Limerick, where she combined studies with competing as an amateur jockey, getting up long before lectures began to ride out every morning.
"To be honest, I'm not sure I gave 100 per cent to either," she says of her time combining racing with education. But as a mark of her energy, she managed to complete a Business Studies Diploma at night school in the midst of it all.
When she left Limerick, she tried to continue as an amateur, like Katie Walsh and Nina Carberry.
But finding she was not securing any decent rides and, "looking for something to do with my life post-university", she decided to turn professional in March 2015.
As the only paid female jump jockey in Ireland (and only the second since Maria Cullen in the Eighties) it was quite a leap.
But, after taking almost six months to record her first victory, last season she won 35 races. She is on target to better that this term. At 28, a relatively late starter, she is anxious to make up for lost time.
"You learn something with every race," she says. Never mind the physical issues (she has broken her collarbone and both wrists), it is the psychological challenge that she finds the most testing.
"One minute you can be riding a winner; the next you could get a fall and be in the ambulance. When things are going well, it's great. If you're not winning, it's different."
But with every win, she is changing the view of women in her sport. When she joins Walsh and Bryony Frost on the start line on Saturday, she will be part of the largest female contingent in the National since 1988.
"I don't think I've been able to shut my eyes since I heard I was riding without imagining coming home first," she says.
If she does manage to steer the 50/1 outsider to victory, in the process becoming the first woman to win the race, she is not alarmed about the scale of the history she will make.
"You're joking. If it happened I won't be thinking about what it means. I'd just be the happiest person in the world." (© Daily Telegraph, London)