RANDOX Grand National-winning jockey, and Carlow resident, Rachael Blackmore has hailed trainer Henry de Bromhead as the “game changer” who has helped transform her career.
The 32 year old rider made history last season on Jump Racing’s two most prestigious stages. In March she became the first female to be crowned leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival, with six winners over the four days, before then winning the world’s greatest steeplechase at Aintree on Minella Times the following month.
Between July and October Blackmore endured nearly 100 days out of the saddle due to a fractured ankle, but time spent on the sidelines has given her an opportunity to reflect on the enormity of her achievements and how none of it would have been possible without de Bromhead.
Speaking today at the trainer’s yard in Knockeen, County Waterford, she explained: “He’s been a game-changer. When I came down here my career had just taken a completely different path, on an upward curve I suppose.
“He’s provided me with the big successes I’ve had in racing. It’s been incredible really – I’m so grateful to him and to everyone down here for what they do with the horses because essentially you can’t win these big races if you’re not getting on these horses.
“He’s got unbelievable owners, he’s exceptional at his job and he just makes my life a lot happier. It’s been unbelievable to be associated with Henry and this place.”
Until the new jumps season kicks fully into gear and the big race contenders begin their campaigns, Blackmore will be regularly asked to describe her emotions after the highs of Cheltenham and Aintree in 2021.
Looking back to those career-defining moments and the Randox Grand National victory specifically, she added: “It’s something that everyone would dream about I suppose and it is THE race. It’s still hard to believe that I’ve actually won it – it’s incredible.
“It’s definitely a replay I love watching! It’s still hard to comprehend it all to be honest. I know that might be silly to say a couple of months on but it was such an incredible day.
“It hit me just when we crossed the line. It was an incredible feeling and one that I’ll never forget. It’s hard to put it into words. It was an initial feeling of elation I suppose.”
Having grown up watching the Aintree spectacular it had never occurred to a schoolgirl Blackmore that she may end up not only winning it one day, but becoming the first female jockey in history to do so.
She recalled: “I think every kid is the same. It’s the first race that captures your imagination when you’re younger and when you’re riding a pony.
“I just remember watching it. We were at a friend’s house with my two best friends and they were doing a sweepstake. I can’t remember what age I was and I can’t remember what won or who was in my sweepstake, but I just remember the Grand National being on and watching it. I think everybody has a story like that so it’s just the race that captures the imagination of everyone.
“I definitely got the feel after winning it that it does reach a lot of different parts of the globe, unlike any other race.”
De Bromhead and owner JP McManus are already plotting Minella Times’s route back to Aintree next April for a defence of his Randox Grand National Crown and Blackmore sees no reason why the eight year old cannot emulate Tiger Roll and Red Rum in winning the race in successive seasons.
She added: “I can’t see why not! He loved it around there which is a big help. I’m sure Henry and JP will discuss his plans for the season but he’s a very special horse to me.
“He was phenomenal (in April), to be honest. I knew after jumping two or three fences on him that he was really going to take to them and it was really enjoyable. He was really enjoyable to ride around there.
“When we landed over the last I still felt like he was galloping for me, he was picking up for me. I suppose one side of my head was saying ‘you’re going to win the Grand National, we’re going to win’ and the other side was saying ‘nah, something’s going to pass you in a couple of seconds’ so the feeling when you cross the line and you know that you’re in front is unbelievable.
“He’s such a genuine horse. He’s fantastic to jump. He’s been trained to perfection and he’ll always be extremely special to me.”
Blackmore’s Aintree heroics came barely three weeks after a sensational Cheltenham Festival, during which she won six races – five of them Grade Ones.
Success over the two major Jump Racing festivals also prompted her to become a an ambassador for The Jockey Club and she will now help with some of the work that Britain’s largest commercial organisation in horseracing undertakes with local communities.
She went on: “Cheltenham was unbelievable. We thought that winning the Champion Hurdle was massive and then the week just seemed to fall right for me and the ball bounced for me – it was fantastic.
“As jockeys we’re just trying to continue on and stay riding winners and I’m extremely lucky to be associated with Henry’s yard. What he did last year was sensational. If you rode for him in the Gold Cup or the Grand National you’re going to be in the first two places home, so I’m very lucky to be associated with him.
“It’s fantastic to be an ambassador for the Jockey Club. They do some fantastic work, a lot of it that people don’t even know about, so it’s great to be involved with them and hopefully we can do some good work throughout the year.”
Despite the successes of last season Blackmore is keen not to look too far into the future and that includes talk of her becoming the first female rider to win Ireland’s Jump Jockey’s Championship.
When asked about that as a goal, she replied: “Right now that isn’t something that I’m even thinking about to be honest.
“I don’t set myself targets. Things in racing can change very quickly so I just try to take it day by day. I’m heading to Thurles today, trying our best to try and get a winner out of today and that’s how I approach things.”
De Bromhead’s yard is a peaceful idyll away from the hustle and bustle of racecourses and Blackmore is in no doubt that the equine superstars are thriving in their home surroundings.
She laughed: “Some mornings when we’re schooling there’s not much peace and quiet, I can tell you! But it’s a fantastic yard, everyone gets on really well, it’s a good system. It’s kind of spidered out as it’s grown over the years but everyone knows their job.
“Henry’s got Dave Roche and Emma Raher, his two head people, and they do a fantastic job and everyone working underneath them. It’s a great place to work. I really enjoy coming down here to ride out. There are obviously a lot of horses looking out over the door and with the firepower Henry has it makes it very enjoyable.
“The horses are extremely well looked after here as they are in every racing yard but they seem to enjoy what they do and Henry’s method of training helps to keep them interested and happy and they really enjoy their jumping so it’s a great place to be.”
As for the trainer himself, he is as full of praise for his jockey as she is for him.
De Bromhead said: “When we first linked up everything just kept winning and they jumped so well for her. She’s a real hard worker and obviously had to work very hard to get where she is, but ultimately when we first linked up everything she was getting on was winning – which made it easy.
“She keeps it simple generally and she’s brilliant at getting them jumping. She doesn’t overcomplicate it and she always seems to be in the right place at the right time, but the main thing is that they just run for her.”
By Nick Seddon (Jockey Club)