Does Cheltenham form work out at Aintree? Rachael Blackmore hopes so.
Punters will speculate over the stars of the National Hunt Festival will reproduce their brilliance three weeks on, but that won’t be an issue with the meeting’s leading jockey.
If COVID-19 had put paid to flights to Liverpool, Blackmore could have walked across the Irish Sea.
“Phenomenal – crazy stuff!” is how the 31-year-old sums up the best week of her professional life.
“It was just incredible. You come over hoping one of them will win – I had an unbelievable book of rides, but everyone knows what can happen in Cheltenham!”
With six victories over Cheltenham’s four days, Blackmore left the Cotswolds with the statuette of Ruby Walsh awarded to the fixture’s top rider – for the first time, a woman.
The haul included the Champion Hurdle aboard Honeysuckle for her boss, Henry de Bromhead, and Allaho’s wrecking-ball destruction in the Ryanair Chase.
None of Blackmore’s winning mounts are in action during the three days of the Randox Grand National meeting.
But victory in the world’s most famous steeplechase aboard de Bromhead’s Minella Times would mark a new first – Katie Walsh’s 2012 third on Seabass is the best placing by a female rider – and complete Blackmore’s ascent to the summit of her calling.
Like his jockey, de Bromhead was in irresistible form at Cheltenham, rounding off the meeting with a 1-2 in the Gold Cup, as the Blackmore-ridden A Plus Tard chased home Minella Indo and Jack Kennedy.
So the bookies need to take the JP McManus-owned eight-year-old Minella Times seriously.
He is a 10-1 shot in BetVictor’s National list, headed by 7-2 favourite Cloth Cap.
Grand National 2021
“He’s a very solid type of horse,” said Blackmore, aboard for victories over fences at Navan and Listowel, and for seconds in big-field, three-mile chases at Leopardstown in December and February.
“His last two runs, he’s been second in two very competitive handicaps.
“He jumps really well and I think he should really enjoy these fences – he jumps from fence to fence.”
Minella Times has an additional mile and a quarter to tackle on Saturday, but his jockey adds: “He relaxes during his races, so you’d be hoping that would help him to see it out.
“I’m really looking forward to riding him.”
Blackmore’s National debut, aboard Alpha Des Obeaux in 2018, came to an end at the 15th fence with a fall at the Chair.
But she completed the course on board Valseur Lido 12 months later.
“I never thought I would get a kick out of finishing 10th in a race!” she laughs. “But it was great to get round.”
The National is the first race banked in most memories, and it was no different for the daughter of a dairy farmer and teacher in Co Tipperary.
“I remember being over at a friend’s house and their family was doing a sweepstake,” she recounts. “We all got our horses from the paper – great excitement!”
Then began the dream of National glory.
It seemed impossible during Blackmore’s winters spent in jump racing’s foothills but is a reality now she has made her ascent to the sport’s peak.
“It is so far from anything I thought could be possible, but you allow yourself to picture it – I think everyone has,” she concedes.
“The only time when you’ve no chance is if you’re sitting in the weigh room. If you’re lined up down at the start, you have as good a chance as anyone.
“There’s 100-1 winners, there’s 66-1 winners, the favourite wins – it can go any way and so many things can happen.
“It’s a special race to be part of. A race like no other.”
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