JUMPING the second last fence at the Aintree Grand National the unthinkable looked like it could happen. Two Carlow housemates were at the front of the most famous horse race in the world and looked like they would battle it out right to the line.
That didn’t quite happen but one of those housemates did go on to record a famous win, while the other had to settle for fourth place.
Of course, we are not talking about any ordinary housemates. We are talking about Rachael Blackmore, perhaps Ireland’s biggest sport star right now after her heroics at Cheltenham and Aintree over the last few weeks, and Patrick Mullins.
Blackmore was already riding the crest of a wave after finishing as Champion Jockey at the Cheltenham Festival but she landed a win that transcends her sport on Saturday when she became the first female jockey to win the race in the 174th running of the event.
Blackmore won on Minella Times for trainer Henry De Bromhead, who also had the second placed horse, 100/1 shot Balko Des Flos.
But if there is there a celebratory meal to had in the Leighlinbridge house where they live – Rachael’s boyfriend Brian Hayes, who finished 15th on Class Conti, is third of the Grand National jockeys living together – it won’t be Patrick Mullins leading the way in the kitchen.
“Brian and Rachael cook. They don’t let me do the cooking. I buy the ingredients. I am banned from the kitchen,” laughed Mullins, and he agreed that it was remarkable for three people living under the same roof to be among the only 15 finishers of the race.
“For the three of us to have a ride in the race, and for the three of us to finish, we got a good kick out of that. It is an unusual feat, I suppose. We all enjoyed it,” agreed Patrick who, at one stage, felt Burrows Saint was going so well that he, himself, was in with a chance of winning the world’s greatest Steeplechase event.
“I got a dream ride. I thought maybe a half-mile out we could win this but unfortunately his stamina gave away in the last two furlongs.”
The previous day, Mullins set up a possible double for himself over the Grand National fences when he steered Livelovelaugh to what looked like an effortless victory in the two mile five furlong Topham Chase. It looked like an effortless victory. With two fences to go the rider was able to give his horse a breather before stretching away to victory.
“He was electric. It was probably the biggest thrill of my career. It was just a real example of a horse taking to Aintree. There was an Aintree factor. He enjoyed the change of scenery. It was very straight-forward.”
“As an eleven year old, he is quite an old horse. He has been around the long time. He ran very well in The Grand National two years ago but he hadn’t stayed. The plan was to come back for this race but it was obviously called off last year.”
Ireland’s leading amateur jockey was not despondent with his fourth place finish on Burrows Saint in the big one.
“We were upsides (with Minella Times) for a lot of the race. Afterwards I congratulated her. At the moment it is Rachael’s world and we are just living in it,” agreed Patrick.
Back in Leighlinbridge, as long as he stays away from the cooking he, Brian and Rachael support and help each other.
“We are all in different places on different mornings. No-one wants to be the last one out of the house if we can avoid it. It helps we are all on the same wavelength. Brian works very hard. Rachael works very hard. There is a good atmosphere,” he said.
After coming home from the track they might watch a recording of their days work. They all welcome each other’s opinion.
“We do discuss it. We all improve off each other. I definitely think it is an advantage for all of us.”
On Saturday, immediately after the presentation, Blackmore and Henry de Bromhead, were formerly interviewed. All the focus was on the jockey but she insisted on passing on the kudos to the winning trainer.
Mullins says there is never a likelihood of people in the racing game getting too big for their boots.
“It is a sport there are so many downs. If you are a good jockey you win two or three out of every ten races. You lose maybe eight times out of ten. That is good for the humility. The jockey cannot do without the trainer so it is very much a team effort.”
The season comes to an end with the Punchestown festival in two weeks’ time. It is all to play for in the jockeys championship.
“Rachael is obviously chasing Paul Townend. I am one ahead of Jamie Codd (in the amateur championship) so there won’t be too much time for celebrations until after Cheltenham I would say.”
By Kieran Murphy