Rachael Blackmore was momentarily stuck for words as she considered the question, which had been posed by ITV’s Gabriel Clarke. It was during an interview that was aired on the first day of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival.
‘Do you want to be a star?’ Clarke asked.
Blackmore, with a faint smile, replied: ‘What is a star? To me, Beyoncé is a star.’
It was a nice line, deftly turning the conversation away from herself. She is modest, humble and those who know her will tell you she is still the same jockey — and, crucially, the same person — whose first success came on board Stowaway Pearl at Thurles on February 10, 2011.
Rachael Blackmore is modest and humble, and now a superstar pioneer of horse racing
Her iconic position as the first female Grand National winner can make her transcend the sport
Adulation might not sit easy but this 31-year-old from Tipperary has not so much broken down barriers but smashed them to smithereens with her brilliance.
There is always a knot in the stomach on Grand National morning, a fear that a calamity will unfold and provide those who detest the spectacle with ammunition to lambast it. We cannot hide away from the fact that one horse — The Long Mile — failed to return and two jockeys (Harry Cobden and Bryony Frost) ended up in hospital.
But Blackmore’s history-making ride has given this great race — and sport as a whole — the kind of positive exposure that no marketing campaign could conjure. She is a pioneer, someone with the rare ability to transcend boundaries and get people from outside excited and interested.
None of these plaudits are over the top. When Blackmore gave that interview to Clarke, she had already won two races at the Cheltenham Festival (A Plus Tard and Minella Indo in 2019) but the feeling was her big moment was around the corner.
She proved it that opening day, when giving the flamboyant Honeysuckle a faultless ride in the Mares Hurdle. She was strong and tactically brilliant to chin hot favourite Vroum Vroum Mag in that Grade One contest.
When she returned to Prestbury Park last month, however, she treated us to an exhibition of an athlete in their peak.
Blackmore hates the idea of discussions with her going down the route of ‘what’s it like to be a woman in a man’s world’ but it was impossible not to pay a passing reference to that theme because her exploits were just so extraordinary in finishing as Cheltenham’s leading rider.
No pilot has ridden that course more elegantly or successfully than Ruby Walsh and the biggest compliment you could pay the stylish Blackmore was to make a comparison with her old weighing room colleague.
It was the same at Aintree yesterday. You could see her, perfectly positioned just off the rail, perched quietly in her saddle, popping away, letting Minella Times — the horse who was going to propel her into the history books — find his feet and get into a rhythm.
This was all she had ever dreamed of doing. When she got her first pony, a little steed called Bubbles, Blackmore was inspired by the Grand National; she made her parents drive her all over Ireland to compete in little races in the hope that she would one day get to do it for real.
Blackmore dreamed of the Grand National since getting her first pony, a steed called Bubbles
Out on the second circuit, your eye kept being drawn to her, in those famous green and gold JP McManus silks, as she sat motionless, allowing Minella Times to gain confidence and inexorable momentum. When she struck the front, there was a glorious inevitability about what would happen.
‘I just think I’m so lucky,’ she said in those immediate breathless moments after pulling up. ‘I never thought that it could happen.’
We must challenge that statement. It might be Blackmore’s way of being guarded but there was nothing lucky about the winning ride in the same way there has been nothing lucky about a career that has exploded like a starburst.
Blackmore, who has a degree from the University of Limerick in equine science, has got to where she has through hard work and talent.
There has been a willingness to go the extra miles, an ability to gain the trust of trainers and owners and it is all wonderfully coming to fruition. ‘It’s surreal,’ said AP McCoy, the most successful rider of them all.
‘We will keep praising her and what she has done. She is giving every young girl who wants to be a jockey hope. She is the Queen of Aintree.’
In winning at Cheltenham, Blackmore was comparable in riding to the legendary Ruby Walsh
Henry de Bromhead, the trainer of Minella Times, added: ‘Aren’t we so lucky to have her? They broke the mould with her.’
That they did. Sometimes it can be difficult to appreciate the weight of sporting excellence when you are living through it but we must stop and recognise just what Rachael Blackmore achieved at Aintree on a day when the absence of a crowd has never been so keenly felt.
She would have been cheered to the rafters on returning to that famous winner’s enclosure, the locals would have been 10-deep on the rails to let Blackmore know exactly how they felt about her on a day that will never be forgotten.
Does she want to be a star? There is no longer an option. To go back to that question from 13 months ago… if Blackmore doesn’t know the answer there is an easy way to find it. All she needs to do is look in the mirror.