Blackmore's living the dream at Cheltenham - and eyeing top jockey crown

Yahoo Sport UK
Rachael Blackmore won her first two races at the Cheltenham Festival in 2019. Can she become the first woman to finish the meeting as top jockey 12 months later?
Rachael Blackmore won her first two races at the Cheltenham Festival in 2019. Can she become the first woman to finish the meeting as top jockey 12 months later?

Winning races motivates more than breaking boundaries but that won't stop Rachael Blackmore taking a wrecking ball, not just a hammer, to the glass ceiling, writes James Toney.

It's 37 years since Caroline Beasley became the first woman to ride a Cheltenham Festival winner and just 12 months since Bryony Frost became the first to win a grade one race, with her victory in the Ryanair Chase.

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Last year Nico de Boinville's three wins secured him the top jockey title at the Festival - ending an 11 year run of the prize being scooped by an Irish jockey.

Blackmore could well be the one to snatch it back.

She boasts an enviable book of rides for trainer Henry De Bromhead, including Arkle favourite Notepad, Irish Champion Hurdle winner Honeysuckle and A Plus Tard, leading the market in the Ryanair Chase.

Add to this novice chaser Minella Indo, who she rode to the biggest of her two Festival wins last year, and Aspire Tower, who topped the Triumph Hurdle market until an unfortunate fall at the Dublin Racing Festival.

In addition, the absence of Gigginstown's top rider Jack Kennedy, who broke his leg at Leopardstown, will mean Blackmore will pick up plenty of rides for Gordon Elliott's crack team too.

Gee Armytage rode two winners in 1987 to tie with Peter Scudamore in the overall standings, losing the title on countback through placed efforts.

But Blackmore – who still needs five more Festival wins to equal Nina Carberry, the leading all-time female jockey at the Festival – has a real chance to go one better, a potential seismic moment for the sport.

"Nina and Katie Walsh got rid of any stigma about women jockeys and they made it easier for me in many ways because of their achievements," she said. "They were great role models for me when I was starting out.

"It's nice to have nice things written about you – you just have to try and keep being that person. Being a woman makes you stand out a bit more perhaps and attracts people to you.

"If you'd have told me when I first turned professional that I'd ride two winners at Cheltenham then I would have probably said that would be enough – I'll retire happy!

"But I was already thinking about the next year after last year, winning at Cheltenham is such an unbelievable feeling and it's never enough.

"When you list the horses I have to ride this year, it's unbelievable. I feel like I am living a dream I never could have even dreamed of.

"Cheltenham is where it all happens and the Tuesday will be bang, bang, bang. I know the anticipation and hype is huge and it’s where you want to be.

"It's an incredibly hard week and this is where everyone wants to be riding winners. Every race at Cheltenham is extremely competitive, you don't get an inch off anyone and it's a unique track that you ride better with experience."

Forget form lines, we're often told it's the blood lines that really matter in racing - and that is not just the horses.

But unlike Carberry and Walsh, in who the DNA of the sport was imbibed since birth, Blackmore was the daughter of a dairy farmer and teacher, who grew up wanting to be a vet.

"This isn't what I dreamed of as a little girl," she admits, though she famously beat Paul Townend, alongside Davy Russell arguably her main rival for top jockey honours, in a Pony Club raced aged 13.

Blackmore's all-girl partnership with unbeaten star mare Honeysuckle could be the enduring tale of this year's Festival, the expectation only enhanced by another victory – their seventh – at the Dublin Racing Festival.

That said, Bubbles, her childhood pony, will always be her first love.

"Honeysuckle is pretty special, she's definitely as good as I've ever ridden," she adds. “Horses are like people, with different characters and traits. Nine times out of ten, it's the horse that wins the race, not the jockey.

"I'm just very lucky to have horses like Honeysuckle to ride, that's half the battle for a jockey."

Eimir Blackmore, Rachael's mother, never got the chance to see her daughter graduate from the University of Limerick – there was a race that day.

She describes her mantelpiece as 'bereft' of that prized photo of her daughter in cap and gown, yet Blackmore may just provide something of an upgrade to replace it.

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