Donn's Articles » Rachael Blackmore

Rachael Blackmore

On the stage at the annual Horse Racing Ireland awards on Tuesday night, MC Hugh Cahill asked the 2018 National Hunt Achievement Award winner Rachael Blackmore if it was a dream come true, to be leading the National Hunt jockeys’ championship in December.

“It’s not,” said the rider.  “I never even dreamt it.”

Actually, it’s reality. 

Blackmore set the pace in the National Hunt jockeys’ championship through the early stages of the season.  By the end of May, she had ridden eight winners and was level with David Mullins and Robbie Power.  A double at Roscommon in July took her total to 20 and took her six clear.  Then on the Sunday at Tipperary, a week before Galway, she rode the first treble of her career.  That took her to 26 winners for the season, seven clear going into the Galway Festival. 

The general feeling pervaded that that it would only be a matter of time before she was caught by the pack, but she kicked on.  By the time Listowel rolled around in September, she was on the 33-winner mark and still leading the championship. 

The pack did catch her.  Or at least Paul Townend did.  But Blackmore responded.  A winner at Punchestown last Wednesday and a double at Thurles on Thursday took her total number of winners to 60, back level with Townend.  Then she kicked Mortal home in the beginners’ chase at Fairyhouse last Saturday and she won the maiden hurdle at Clonmel on Thursday on Smoking Gun, which took her total to 62, one ahead of Paul Townend.  This rider is not going away.

True, she is a female rider, but that is just a descriptor.  It’s like saying she’s 29 or she is from Tipperary.  You can trot out the milestones that go with that descriptor: the first female to turn professional since Maria Cullen in the 1980s; the first female conditional riders’ champion; the first female ever to ride more than 40 winners in a National Hunt season in Ireland.  But pare it all back, and she is simply a high-class National Hunt rider who is up there with the best National Hunt riders in the country.

You probably know her back story by now.  No real family connection with racing, but horses around the place.  Hunted and rode in pony club.  Wanted to be a vet, didn’t get the points, did Equine Science in Limerick, got going with Shark Hanlon on Davy Russell’s recommendation.  Spent four years riding as an amateur, couldn’t really generate the momentum that she needed, then turned professional.  Came from nowhere to be champion conditional in 2016/17 and leads the jockeys’ championship two years later.  That’s the real story.  Now you’re up to date.

You just have to watch her ride.  Balance and tactical awareness and strength in a finish.  Watch her ride on Tintangle at Thurles, or on Mortal at Fairyhouse.  Head to head with Any Second Now and Mark Walsh from the second last fence and got home by a neck.

She has struck up a fantastic relationship with Henry de Bromhead, and she is one of Gigginstown House Stud’s go-to riders.  You know that that would not be the case if she was not one of the best in the business.  This is a winners-driven business.

She rode Bedrock for Iain Jardine to win the Grade 3 Horse & Jockey Hotel Hurdle at Tipperary in October, and she rode him again to beat Samcro and Sharjah in the Grade 2 WKD Hurdle at Down Royal the following month. 

She rode Patricks Park for Willie Mullins to win the big Coral Sandyford Handicap Chase at the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown last February, and she rode two big handicap hurdle winners for the champion trainer at the Punchestown Festival in April.  The demand for her services, and the identity of the people who demand her services, tells you how highly regarded she is as a rider. 

She plays it all down, she does not embrace the limelight, prefers to kick on and keep her head down.  But when you achieve what she has achieved, people are going to notice.  She does recognise that.  She accepts it.  That’s just the way it is.   

And there is her work ethic.  Not only has she ridden more winners than any other rider this season, but she has had more rides than all but one – only Andrew Lynch has had more rides than her this term – and she has ridden for 76 different trainers.

There have been milestones.  Her conditional riders’ championship was obviously a milestone.  That first treble of her career at Tipperary was another milestone.  Her first graded race win, Blow By Blow for Gordon Elliott in the Michael Purcell Memorial Novice Hurdle at Thurles last February.  Her first Grade 2 win, Bedrock for Iain Jardine in that WKD Hurdle at Down Royal last month. 

A first Grade 1 win?  That would be massive.  And, you never know, it could happen today, as she lines up on Balko Des Flos in the Grade 1 John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown.

She has ridden the Gigginstown House horse just once, last time, last month, when he disappointed in the Champion Chase at Down Royal.  That just wasn’t the Balko gelding’s true running.  He didn’t look happy at any stage of the race, and he ultimately faded to finish a remote fourth.  He is better than that. 

He will have to be because he faces some talented rivals today.  There may be only five runners in the race, but all four rivals are top class.  All four are Grade 1 winners.

But Balko Des Flos himself is a Grade 1 winner.  Second behind Road To Respect in the Grade 1 Christmas Chase at Leopardstown last December, Henry de Bromhead’s horse cut loose at the Cheltenham Festival in March, putting up the most impressive performance of his career in beating Un De Sceaux and Cloudy Dream in the Ryanair Chase.  A repeat of that performance would take him close today.  And you know that he will not lack for assistance from the saddle.

There could be another milestone today.  It’s possible.  It’s reality.

© The Sunday Times, 9th December 2018