Tuesday 26 March 2019

Blackmore rises as 'Dream' turns to nightmare for Ruby

See you later: Rachael Blackmore punches the air in delight as she celebrates her stylish victory aboard A Plus Tard in the Close Brothers Chase at Cheltenham yesterday. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
See you later: Rachael Blackmore punches the air in delight as she celebrates her stylish victory aboard A Plus Tard in the Close Brothers Chase at Cheltenham yesterday. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

All the talk was of the mares making their mark on Champion Hurdle day, but it was Rachael Blackmore that left the greatest imprint as she broke yet another glass ceiling to secure her maiden Cheltenham Festival success.

There was an outpouring of emotion like no other - with even the hardest-nosed racing fan bearing their pearly whites - when Blackmore steered A Plus Tard (5/1 favourite) to a comfortable victory in the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase.

The 29-year-old Tipperary jockey left it in no doubt, powering 16 lengths clear up the famous 'Hill' in a first Festival success for leading Flat owners Cheveley Park Stud, and a sixth for Henry de Bromhead.

It left Blackmore in dreamland but with 84 winners on Irish soil already this season in her pursuit for the Irish jockeys' championship, it shouldn't have come as any great surprise.

"I never thought I would be coming up that hill like that. It's unbelievable. The race went perfectly. Henry de Bromhead has put a lot of faith in me this week, considering I had never ridden a Festival winner," she said.

"He's put me up on a lot of them, including in Grade Ones, and I'm very grateful to him. It's phenomenal. It's fantastic to get a winner here - it's what every jockey dreams about and I'm just so grateful to get to ride a horse like him."

Beautiful

There was a beautiful moment in the parade ring following the landmark success when De Bromhead handed his mobile phone to Blackmore to be congratulated by her biggest fans, his twins Jack and Mia and youngest daughter Georgia.

The Waterford trainer has been a huge supporter of Blackmore - "no one deserves it more and I'm very lucky to be associated with her" - and beautifully summed up her insatiable thirst for winners in the aftermath.

"She wins," he said of her best qualities. "She's a great team player. One example, she texted me on Christmas Eve and said, 'What time do you want me in in the morning?' She came down and rode out. That kind of stuff, little things like that matter."

While becoming the 15th female jockey to succeed at the Festival, she is also the first Irish female professional rider to do so and a first Grade One success is surely next on the her hit list with AP McCoy, the most successful jumps jockey of all time, believing anything is possible, including becoming champion jockey.

"She's a great rider. Stats don't lie. She's brave, tough and she's a very good rider. It's not about male or female, she doesn't look out of place against anyone. I definitely wouldn't like to be giving Rachael Blackmore a claim!" McCoy said.

"She's got the attitude, the talent, she's get the desire as well. She's brave too. Being brave as jump jockey is a big thing. She has it. She's a brilliant rider, Why couldn't she be champion? She's getting tremendous support from Gigginstown and various people, all owners have rowed in behind her so why not?"

Proceedings got off to a familiar start with the dream team of Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh landing the Festival opener, the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, by way of a virtuous performance in the saddle from Walsh aboard Klassical Dream (6/1).

The Closutton inmate marked himself down as an exciting prospect and fulfilled the dreams of his late owner, John Coleman, by providing him with a first Festival winner as his wife Jo carried some of his ashes in her handbag for good luck.

Despite being judged to have a weaker team than normal this week, Mullins secured his 63rd Festival winner 40 minutes later as Paul Townend guided Duc Des Genievres (5/1) to a bloodless success in Racing Post Arkle Novices' Chase.

Duc Des Genievres led home an Irish 1-2-3 with Joseph O'Brien's Us And Them (14/1) and Articulum (25/1) - Terence O'Brien's sole runner this week - with Townend effusive in his praise for the Closutton maestro.

"I don't have the vocabulary to describe Willie Mullins but year on year, he produces them here in some order and fair play to him. It is a privilege to work for him," Townend said.

Walsh's day quickly turned sour and it was deja vu aboard Benie Des Dieux in the Mares' Hurdle as Mullins' eight-year-old fell at the last with the race at his mercy, similar to Annie Power's crushing departure at the same stage of that race four years ago.

That left Dan Skelton's Roksana (10/1) in front to prevail in front of a stunned pavilion - in the hands of his brother Harry - and compound a trying time for Benie Des Dieux's owner Rich Ricci. Ricci, who has had plenty of unfavourable press following last week's closure of bookmaker BetBright, of which he was chairman, said: "It has been a very difficult week, but the horse is great and Ruby is fine, which is the most important thing.

Trolls

"I don't want the trolls to attack Ruby. He is the best jockey in the world and it happens. I just hope he is protected from the same nonsense he got the last day. This game is tough and I take a lot and I'm tough."

Gordon Elliott was the Meath man supposed to make headlines but instead it was county mate Gavin Cromwell who landed the Champion Hurdle with Espoir D'Allen (16/1) stuffing wonder mare Apple's Jade.

Yesterday was reassurance that racing is an unpredictable game, and that Cheltenham is the beyond predictable but it finished with crack Irish amateur Jamie Codd showing his brilliance to land the National Hunt Cup aboard Ben Pauling's Le Breuil (14/1) after a thrilling duel with Paul Nolan's Discorama (7/1) and jockey Barry O'Neill.

A reminder that you can get all the behind-the-scenes action from the 2019 Cheltenham Festival  with Michael Verney over on the Independent Sport Instagram page.

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