After crossing the finish line aboard the Minella Times, her smile lighting up the gray Liverpool afternoon as she pumped her fists in joy, Rachael Blackmore looked like she had been doing this her whole life. As if that was the kind of thing that happened every day. As if this malarkey thing was just a matter of routine. Well, not exactly. Only 18 women have already circled Aintree at the National, the best result until she passed the finish post was Katie Walsh’s third place aboard Seabass in 2012. Now Blackmore has changed all of this. And with her victory, she showed precisely what women can do. As the glass ceilings disappear, the one placed in shattered shards on the grass of Aintree is entirely a thing of the past.
What was revealing to watch, however, was how well received his victory had been. The pandemic may have restricted the number of participants (there were almost as many horses as there were spectators around the magnificent arena which normally at this time of year rings to the sound of young Liverpool celebrating). But when she stepped onto the podium at the winner’s compound to retrieve her trophy behind a protective screen, the ovation from racehorse owners, fellow jockeys and the media was long, strong and felt. After all, those who were fortunate enough to be present witnessed firsthand history. And their pleasure was clear. It wasn’t just a time to toast the very first female rider to win the world’s favorite steeplechase, it meant something. It was a recognition of the almost unique position of the race: it is now a gender blind sport of its participants. As UKTN McCoy pointed out, through jumps and on the flats, men and women can compete for the same cash prize on the same court at the same time. And you can’t say that for football, rugby, cricket, tennis, swimming, golf, or track and field.
“The race is leading in this area,” he said. “This is something that everyone involved can be very proud of.”
Indeed, the sport that McCoy has honored has come a long way since Charlotte Brew toured the Aintree course on Barony Fort in 1977. The first woman to ride for the National, failed to complete the race. course. Here we are now, 44 years later, when women and men are now absolutely, unequivocally and unmistakably equal.
Or maybe not so even. Watched over by Sir Alex Ferguson, a man who knows all about the insistent accumulation of silverware, this victory was another to add to Blackmore’s nascent collection. After the year she’s had, she’ll have to build an extension to her house just to store her trophies. Winning the Gold Cup and Grand National double in the same year means the Queen of Cheltenham is now the Empress of Aintree. It’s the mark of a jockey who doesn’t just follow the guys, but is in the lead.
Not that anyone who has studied his progress can be surprised. His rise to the highest echelon of his sport is no accident. She’s a rider who has paid her debt, learned from every fall and every failure. Watching her run Minella Times smoothly, easily, intelligently over the National’s 30 fences was to see a mistress of everything she watches. Henry De Bromhead, the coach who has been by his side throughout his extraordinary year, has long known his abilities. And he applauded the fact that his reading of the event was remarkable. She gave a tactical masterclass.
From the start it seemed like seasoned veteran Sam Waley Cohen was trying to match the approach to the competition Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool won last football season and just blew everyone away early on. On board Jett he was at one point eleven lengths off the pitch as they whistled and fell into his laundry. But Blackmore showed no sign of panic. She sat and waited, biding her time, ready to pounce, keeping her steed prepared for the last burst of acceleration. Perfectly placed by the rails, never far behind even as Waley Cohen appeared to be sailing, she moved Minella Times with just a fence to jump on. Then she applied rocket fuel to her horse’s stride, as he relaxed ahead to lead to the most important point of all: the finish line.
“I can’t believe it, he was absolutely sensational,” she said of the 11-1 luck held by JP McManus. “My God, what Henry De Bromhead is doing with these horses. I am so lucky. He jumped beautifully, I was trying to wait as long as possible. When we skipped the last one and I asked him a little more, he was there.
Maybe she erased herself on her own, but De Bromhead was probably closer to the mark when he suggested ‘they broke the mold after her’.
Indeed, the mold she shattered by sending the nation to leap from her couch in amazement at her talent is this: the idea of differentiating male and female jockeys. Thanks to Blackmore, whether men or women, runners will now be called simply jockeys.