It was shaping up to be a bleak year for horse racing. After a picture of trainer Gordon Elliott posing on a dead novice chaser, named Morgan, was circulated on social media, the reputation of the sport fell to its lowest level in recent memory. Amidst all the scandal and controversy, however, Rachael Blackmore’s performances at both Cheltenham and Aintree have propelled her as the beacon of light which the sport so desperately needed.
Blackmore became the first woman to win the Grand National in its 182-year history, guiding Minella Times to victory at 11/1. Just months after disgraced Elliott had been filling the tabloids for the wrong reasons, the front pages were now adulating over horse racing’s new superstar.
Whilst those who don’t follow the sport as much may be unfamiliar with Blackmore, she certainly didn’t spring up out of nowhere. She claimed her first victory at the Cheltenham Festival in 2019 on A Plus Tard and finished tenth in the same year’s Grand National riding Valseur Lido.
It was this year, however, that she was launched into stardom. Becoming the first woman to win a Cheltenham Champion Hurdle, as well as the first to clinch the Ruby Walsh Trophy for being the leading jockey at the festival, her National win has left few glass ceilings left for her to smash.
So what does this mean for the future of horse racing, and sport in general? AP McCoy said after Cheltenham that Blackmore has single-handedly changed the face of horse racing, and her National win can only have enhanced this. Even though it was only in February that the Gordon Elliott scandal emerged, it seems an age ago. And this is down to one woman. As Henry de Bromhead put it, ‘aren’t we so lucky to have her?’
Blackmore’s rise represents a wider shift in horse racing which has been occurring somewhat under the radar for the past decade or so. Whilst her recent exploits have created national attention, they have come as no surprise to those involved with the sport. The term ‘female jockey’ isn’t used anymore, and it is now widely accepted that Blackmore is the best jockey, male or female, at the moment.
The arguments which have existed in the past that jump racing was too physically demanding for women to succeed in have now rightly vanished. Bryony Frost has had a similarly impressive year as Blackmore. She became the first woman to ride the winner of the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day with Frodon, which was her 175th career win.
In flat racing, Hollie Doyle is considered one of the leading jockeys and came third in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year in December. The future is certainly shaping up for female jockeys. As Blackmore herself put it, she certainly won’t be the last female National winner.
Blackmore has introduced herself as a trailblazer for horse racing, but there is no reason why she cannot be seen as a trailblazer for other sports. The images of her crossing the line at Aintree last week on the front pages are inspirational for anyone; it really was a landmark victory.
She isn’t finished here, either. Expect to hear much more about Rachael Blackmore in the coming years. She’s lifted horse racing out of what threatened to be one of its darkest moments, whilst offering hope and inspiration for so many people.
Image: Horse Racing Ireland via Flickr