NorthEver since Lady Godiva rode naked through the streets of Coventry in the 13th century, a woman on horseback has caused such a public stir. With her modesty covered in the green and gold silks of JP McManus, Rachael Blackmore wrote possibly the most colorful chapter yet in the 182-year history of the Grand National on Saturday.
The daughter of a Tipperary farmer and schoolmaster with no experience in the industry in which she plows her unique furrow, she became the first woman to win the world’s most iconic horse race at Aintree in the Minella Times. While the horse and its trainer, Henry of Bromhead, also deserve all the credit, their place as historical footnotes seems almost assured. It’s unlikely they’ll care too much because, like everyone else, except perhaps the animal that did the heavy lifting, they’ll know that Blackmore is hands down the only show in town.
Her victory continues an unprecedented streak of recent high-profile victories for an astonishingly talented female jockey enjoying the way of her life. Until recently Ireland’s best kept secret, its latest success is due to a remarkable series of career milestones in Cheltenham. Filmmaker Luke McManus, who spent time in his company during filming. Jump girls, a documentary that follows the careers of National Hunt female jockeys working on a truly unforgiving game, is not surprised by its success.
“She was the force that came when I first came across her,” he told the Observer. “The most prominent memory I have of her is how uncomfortable she felt being in the spotlight. Being interviewed did not come naturally to her. She had this really weird and understated assertiveness without arrogance of any kind. She was absolutely focused. He is an incredibly nice person. “
And brilliant too. The first woman to claim the Cheltenham Festival top rider title, with the highest tally of six winners alongside Ruby Walsh. The first woman to ride the Champion Hurdle winner. The first woman to win the Ryanair Chase. Even in a rare display of fallibility, she became the first woman to turn down a Gold Cup winner’s ride, choosing instead the horse that was defeated in second place. An occupational hazard that only the best horsemen have to deal with, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that she was also the first woman to face such a dilemma. After Cheltenham, at Aintree she became the first lady of racing – full stop.
“What an ambassador, I think she’s an incredible person,” reflected Walsh, a two-time Grand National winner. “To take the falls she takes… she’s so calculated, she’s so motivated, she’s got such a nice personality. It is simply fabulous. It’s amazing, that’s what it is. It is brilliant!”
Racing Blackmore, much needed. On ITV’s excellent coverage on the day of the Grand National, Ed Chamberlin could hardly have been clearer. “We have done everything possible this year to get you into the heart of the action even though the racetrack is like a ghost town,” he said by way of introduction. It was a fitting analogy in a year in which the sport continues to be haunted by that harrowing photo of Gordon Elliott posing at a gallop seated on a dead horse. It is a truly gruesome image that will take forever to fade.
Alongside Ed, AP McCoy was in commendably curmudgeonly form. In full old-fashioned cloud shouting mode, the 18-time champion rider repeatedly expressed concern about how easy the Grand National has become since the days of the 1970s, when Red Rum won an unprecedented three times. “I just don’t want it to become just another race,” he said regretfully when it was pointed out that the introduction of security measures was necessary for him to survive. “Going to never become one more breed, ”Chamberlin replied. How right he was!
Competing as an equal against men in a world where basement-dwelling online trolls continue to throw bricks at female athletes with tedious regularity, Blackmore became the first woman to take home the winner of the most famous race in the world. your sport. “I can’t believe I’m [talking] after winning the Grand National, ”he said. Determined to be seen as just another jockey instead of a woman, faced with the inevitable questioning, she said: “I don’t feel like a man or a woman right now, I don’t even feel human.”
In the immediate aftermath of Cheltenham, Chamberlin admitted that he had been dreading the concert, such was his uncertainty about how the races were being held. Due in large part to his deft handling of the crisis in front of the camera, aided and abetted by Blackmore’s heroics on the runway, his fears ultimately proved unfounded. As for the jockey of the day, it is an enduring farce that the greatest victories of his career have taken place in front of silent and completely empty stands. Having ridden to the rescue of the races, she deserves our gratitude and unbridled applause.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism