For those who decided to look beyond Rachael Blackmore in the Randox Grand National, thinking she surely could not top what she achieved at Cheltenham – it was time to rip up their tickets.
As much as Blackmore does not like talking about the barriers she is currently smashing down in National Hunt racing, they simply cannot be ignored.
Many thought that being crowned leading jockey at the pre-eminent Festival in the Cotswolds had to be the ceiling of an incredible season, but at Aintree there was even more to come.
As soon as it became apparent a few weeks ago that Minella Times – trained by her close ally Henry de Bromhead – was going to be her National mount, his price began to collapse.
Sent off a well-fancied 11-1 chance, there was no doubt who carried the ‘housewives’ favourite’ tag into the race this year.
Just about the only thing Blackmore got wrong at Cheltenham, though, was her choice of what to ride in the Gold Cup when she plumped for A Plus Tard over another Minella, Minella Indo.
Just as happened last month, De Bromhead runners finished first and second in the big race – but there was surely a penny or two for Blackmore’s thoughts at the second-last when she looked across and saw Aidan Coleman travelling ominously well on Balko Des Flos.
Blackmore had been unseated from the 2018 Ryanair winner in the cross-country chase at Cheltenham – and despite his 100-1 odds, she told everyone who would listen that he would outrun those.
She even got that right.
Thankfully for her, and no doubt the organisers, she was nonetheless on the right one this time as Minella Times stayed on powerfully to win by six and a half lengths.
“I am so lucky to be riding these horses for Henry. This is so massive. I had such a beautiful passage around,” said Blackmore.
“Minella Times jumped fantastically and didn’t miss a beat anywhere. I couldn’t believe it, jumping the second-last – I don’t know, it’s just incredible.
“When I hit the rail and I heard I was four lengths in front, I knew he was going to gallop to the line, but we all know what can happen on the run-in here. When I crossed the line, I don’t know how I felt – it’s incredible.”
She added: “This is the Aintree Grand National. I’m completely blown away.
“I’m so lucky to be riding these horses for Henry de Bromhead. He trained a one-two there, which is incredible. That can’t be forgotten in the whole scheme of things.
“It’s great to win it in these colours, too. It’s always a privilege to ride for JP McManus, and to win it for him is unbelievable. They’ve had a tough year, so hopefully this can make things a little easier.
“This is a massive deal for me personally, not the fact I’m a female. The thing that hit me when I crossed the line was that I’d won the National, not that I’m the first female to win the National. I’m just delighted.”
While Blackmore will quite rightly take the plaudits for creating more history, a word or few are due for De Bromhead’s achievements this season as well.
He has saddled the first two home in the Grand National and Gold Cup, as well as winning the Champion Hurdle with Honeysuckle and the Champion Chase with Put The Kettle On.
There is just one more frontier for Blackmore to cross. She is currently 10 winners behind Paul Townend in the race to be Ireland’s champion jockey – with her rival and current title-holder on the sidelines for an indefinite period following a foot injury.
Should she reel him in and become champion, surely any talk of her gender will be set aside for good.
Sir Anthony McCoy certainly knows a thing or two about being champion – and winning the National, partnering Don’t Push It in the same colours in 2010.
McCoy is still closely attached to McManus and he heaped praise on Blackmore and her achievements, saying: “Look it’s a brilliant thing for horse racing that she’s won. She’s an amazing rider and she proved that at Cheltenham, but to win the biggest horse race in the world is great for the sport.
“It’s great for her, but it’s brilliant for the sport as well. It gives every young girl hope of winning the biggest race in the world and winning any race for that matter – she can do it all.
“It’s a brilliant achievement and JP will be delighted. To win this race is very special and for her to do it on one of his horses is great.”
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