When the paddocks fell silent in the absence of the usual roaring crowds at Cheltenham Festival, Rachael Blackmore’s historic victory brought the noise.
Last year, the Irish jockey was catapulted into the spotlight after she became the first woman to win the Champion Hurdle. On board Henry de Bromhead’s Honeysuckle, Blackmore thundered across the finish line, leading the chase by six and a half lengths.
As well as her milestone triumph, Blackmore added a further five wins to her tally across the four days at the festival, seeing her crowned the first ever female winner of the Ruby Walsh Trophy for leading Cheltenham jockey.
During a time where all sporting events were played behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic, athletes and teams struggled without the backing of their supporters.
But for Blackmore — a humble competitor who lets her racing do the talking — she capitalised on the lack of distractions.
“I really felt the pressure before last year’s Cheltenham but then the race week started and we could finally stop talking, it just felt different, especially with no fans,” she reflected.
“From a jockeys’ perspective you try not to get too wrapped up in it but it’s hard in a normal year, there’s nowhere like Cheltenham in our sport. Being behind closed doors probably made it a bit easier, it meant it was just me and the horses.”
Blackmore’s six winning runs at Cheltenham made her a household name — not just within racing but beyond.
|2021 Cheltenham race||Winning horse|
|Baring Bingham Novices’ Hurdle||Bob Olinger|
|Champion Bumper||Sir Gerhard|
|Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle||Telmesomethinggirl|
Grand National success
Blackmore’s story didn’t stop at Cheltenham either. A month later, she once again took a hammer to the glass ceiling with her success at the Grand National in Aintree.
On board Minella Times, another de Bromhead superstar, the Irish trailblazer beat the competition to be crowned the first ever female winner of the famous steeplechase.
But as modest as ever, a stunned Blackmore couldn’t even take in the magnitude of what she had achieved.
After the race, she told ITV: “I don’t feel male or female right now. I don’t even feel human, it’s unbelievable.”
Injury comeback and Cheltenham return
After winning the hearts of the nation and etching her name in the history books, Blackmore’s year turned bittersweet after she sustained an injury at Killarney in July.
The 32-year-old fractured her ankle and injured her hip when Merry Poppins fell during the race on her home soil.
Thankfully, Blackmore made a full recovery and is ready to return to the turnstiles at Cheltenham next week.
She will be looking to defend her Champion Hurdle title with Honeysuckle, the show-stopping mare with whom she has ridden to 14 consecutive victories.
But despite Honeysuckle being the race favourite, Blackmore has stressed the importance of staying level headed, despite the odds being heavily in the duo’s favour.
“The expectation is there but I know how hard it is to get winners in Cheltenham, I’m realistic,” she said. “You’re going with the same mind frame as you do every year — just hoping to ride one winner.
“It doesn’t matter what race you’re in, you’re a very lucky person if you get to walk into the winner’s enclosure in Cheltenham.
“But Honeysuckle has never let me down to this date so I can’t see why this year would be any different.”
Cheltenham Festival will get underway on Tuesday, March 15th and Blackmore will race in the Champion Hurdle on day one of the competition.