Friday 24 January 2020

'The whole male versus female thing is not a talking point, it's gone'

Michael Verney talks to Rachael Blackmore about her thirst for winners after a sizzling start to the season

Hailed as a pioneer for women in sport by some, Rachael Blackmore sees herself as an equal in the weigh-room alongside her male and female colleagues. Photo: Sportsfile
Hailed as a pioneer for women in sport by some, Rachael Blackmore sees herself as an equal in the weigh-room alongside her male and female colleagues. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

For those who dip in and out of racing, Rachael Blackmore's standing at the head of the Irish jump jockeys' table is ground-breaking news, but it has quickly become the norm.

The idea of female jockeys upsetting their male counterparts is no longer a surprise on either side of the Irish Sea - Bryony Frost and Lizzie Kelly have also proved that - and as champion trainer Willie Mullins remarked earlier this year, "Rachael is a good jockey, she's not a lady jockey, she's a good jockey."

Headlines were grabbed at Roscommon earlier this month when five of the seven races ended in female triumph with Blackmore landing a double while fellow professional Katie O'Farrell was on the mark with amateurs Jody Townend and Lisa O'Neill.

To many, it was a landmark occasion but 29-year-old Blackmore doesn't see it as a gender victory as everyone is treated equally in the weighing room and it's never a case of 'them against us', despite what some might perceive.

Equal

"To be honest, not really," the Tipperary rider says. "We're all riding as equal people, it's great we had five winners between us and with three of my friends and I was thrilled, but we're not all delighted because we beat the boys. It's not that dynamic at all.

"I don't even think it's a talking point anymore, the whole male-female thing, it's gone now. There's plenty of us doing well, and it's not a thing anymore, not that I ever thought it was to be honest. It's other people making a big issue about it."

The 2016/'17 champion conditional jockey - who has notched 26 winners already this season including a first career treble (at Tipperary) - is a reluctant heroine, however, and prefers to stay out of the spotlight and concentrate on her job.

That's what she does best, but having ridden her first winner aboard Stowaway Pearl for trainer 'Shark' Hanlon at Thurles more than eight years ago, it took some time for her to make her name in a challenging profession where danger is never too far away.

Just six further winners followed over the next four years before she decided to take the plunge into the paid ranks to help open more doors under Hanlon's advice. It was either that or call time on her riding career.

And while she never doubted her decision and felt there was little to lose, she hadn't envisaged that it would bear fruit like it has.

"I didn't really see myself as being successful as an amateur or a professional to be honest," she says candidly. "I did see myself as having more of an opportunity because of the yard I was associated with. I knew I'd get more rides as a conditional jockey so that was the driving factor behind the decision."

Blackmore had tried the other world as a student, sampling courses in UCD (science), UL (equine science) and Griffith College (business) while an amateur, but becoming a fully-fledged jockey was the dream and it's something she chased hard.

She played basketball - even gracing the National Stadium in Tallaght - and hockey during her schooling in Loreto Convent in Clonmel, but horses were always to the forefront of her mind since her first taste of racing in Irish Pony Club as a child.

Nina Carberry and Katie Walsh - both of whom retired after the Punchestown Festival in April - helped to make dreams a reality for the likes of Blackmore, but the Killenaule native has already trod her own distinct path.

The nature and regularity of racing means there is little time to admire the past however, and while the teetotaller will "enjoy it for as long as it lasts" as top jockey, it's not something she dwells on as she craves the next visit to the winners' enclosure.

"It's quite hard to reflect on because you don't really... there's actually no time for reflection in racing. You're on to the next day and you might have a bad day at the races, you're constantly moving forward so there's no time to reflect really," she says.

"You ride three winners in one night and if you'd told me years ago that that would happen, I'd say 'God, that'll make me happy and that'll make me content' but it doesn't, you're constantly on the search for more again. It's a very strange thing.

"The champion jockey thing is half a bit of a joke at the moment, I'll enjoy being in front for as long as it lasts but I'd love to be riding in all the bigger races and in Grade Ones. I don't really set myself goals though, I just want to stay riding winners."

A big part of her rise has been the assistance of her agent Gary Cribbin, sponsors BHP Insurance and a successful partnership developed with trainer Henry de Bromhead and, while the racing life has its demands with the day starting at sunrise, riding work, she thrives on it.

Winner

"I don't get too carried away with it, some days you're just doing routine work, you're not buzzing around the place thinking you're riding a Cheltenham winner.

"It doesn't feel like a job so I feel very privileged to be doing something every day that I don't feel is work," Blackmore says.

"I talk to some of my friends from college and they're getting up and going to work every day and living for the weekend, I feel privileged to do a job that I enjoy so much and that has been so good to me in return."

While Ruby Walsh's much-publicised return will garner much of the headlines at this week's Galway Festival, Blackmore arrives to Ballybrit at the top of the tree and with a level stakes profit of +28.39 already this season, she is one of the main protagonists to follow.

Only Sean Flanagan and Andrew Lynch have been busier than her this season and it'd be no surprise to see her prevail again this week in a typically strong finish as all eyes turn to Galway.

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