Blackmore is racing's queen of hearts after Cheltenham glory

Pirate IRWIN
·3-min read

Rachael Blackmore forms her hands into a heart shape when she wins and the talented jockey has certainly won the affection of neutrals after a stunning week at the Cheltenham Festival.

The Irish rider, 31, became the first woman to secure the coveted top jockey award at the jump-racing event after six wins over the course of four days in southwest England.

Her outstanding achievements have focused attention firmly back on the turf after a difficult few weeks for the sport.

The image of racing was badly tarnished when a picture circulated of leading trainer Gordon Elliott sitting on a dead horse, resulting in a ban for the Irishman.

"She has changed the face of racing this week," said riding great AP McCoy.

Blackmore made headlines on Tuesday when she became the first female jockey to win the Champion Hurdle, on Honeysuckle.

"To me, this was never even a dream," she said. "It was so far from what I ever thought could happen in my life -- to be in Cheltenham, riding a winner of a Champion Hurdle.

"It's just so far removed from anything I ever thought could be possible, so maybe there's a lesson in that for everyone out there."

Her final afternoon started with her sixth win as she steered the Henry de Bromhead-trained Quilixios to victory in the Triumph Hurdle.

She nearly finished her week on a fresh high in the blue riband Gold Cup but A Plus Tard found stablemate Minella Indo too good and Blackmore had to be content with second.

- Farming family -

Blackmore hunted as a child but she had no direct links to racing, coming from a farming family based in County Tipperary.

However, her mother Eimir said she was not surprised Rachael chose to forge a career in such a dangerous sport -- Blackmore went from riding a winner early on Wednesday to three successive falls.

"She continuously climbed out of her cot even well before her first birthday," Eimir told the Irish Times.

"We knew she was going to have an adventurous disposition, to say the least."

Her potential was spotted by Irish jockey Davy Russell -- most famously associated with two-time Grand National winner Tiger Roll -- who recommended Blackmore as an amateur rider to trainer James "Shark" Hanlon.

Her first ride for him, Stowaway Pearl, was a winner in 2011 and he convinced her to turn professional in 2015.

"She had the talent and she had the work ethic, all she needed was a little bit of luck," he told the Times this week.

"She was working here for me and she was studying equine science in Limerick, and she was doing a course in Dublin.

"She'd go home to her dad (Charlie) and help him milk 80 or 100 cows. She just doesn't stop."

However, to her teacher mother Eimir's regret, when hard choices had to be made between her various interests, her devotion to riding came first.

"When she graduated in equine science in UL (University of Limerick), she graduated in absentia because there was a race that day and she wanted to ride," she told the Irish Times.

"So my mantelpiece is bereft."

Her work ethic has paid off handsomely in a sport that pits men against women on equal terms and McCoy believes she is the best of the bunch at the moment.

Retired Irish jockey Ruby Walsh, whose sister Katie was a top-class amateur, agrees.

He said it was a shame that the usual crowds of around 50,000 could not witness her triumphs due to coronavirus restrictions.

"People would be chanting her name, it would be a wonderful spectacle and one she deserves fully," he said.

"She is definitely the best at the moment. She is doing all the right things."