Rachael Blackmore had to do some racing of a very different kind as she battled fog on either side of the Irish Sea to reach the Sports Personality of the Year awards on Sunday night.
The 32-year-old from County Tipperary capped a stellar 2021 by being voted the BBC’s World Sport Star of the Year, seeing off some illustrious opponents to claim the prize.
It was fully deserved too after an incredible year in which she became the first female jockey to win the Grand National in the race’s 182-year history on Minella Times, having also broken new ground as the first woman to be crowned leading rider at the Cheltenham Festival the month before.
But what should have been a straightforward journey from Dublin to Manchester, after racing at Thurles earlier in the day, turned out to be anything but.
She had been due to catch a 5.30pm flight and arrive in good time to receive the award in person, but a series of delays in Dublin and Manchester meant she was forced to speak to presenter Clare Balding over Zoom, having hurriedly put on her dress and her make-up in a hotel near Manchester Airport.
Asked what had happened to delay her, Blackmore told reporters later: “The fog happened. I got to the airport (in Dublin), I was sitting on the plane, they closed the door of the plane and then the pilot said there was going to be a 55-minute delay for us taking off.
“I was still going to get here on time with that. But then we had to do a few loops around Manchester when we got here with the fog. Then we landed in Manchester and I was still going to be OK, but it was going to be tight. They opened the doors of the plane, the steps were up, I was sitting in 1A and I was there for 25 minutes I’d say before they let us actually get off the plane. So it was a bit stressful.
“Then we had to get in a bus to get back to the terminal. It doesn’t matter how quick I got off the plane, I had to wait for a bus load of people to get off. There was a hotel by the airport and I was there at 8.15pm and I was on TV at 8.30pm.”
Blackmore admitted the whole episode was “peak 2021”, as was the fact her awards dress still had the security tag attached.
The journey to Manchester was in stark contrast to the rest of the year for Blackmore, which could scarcely have gone better.
She saw off tennis star Novak Djokovic, boxer Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, Super Bowl-winning NFL quarterback Tom Brady, new Formula One champion Max Verstappen and Jamaican sprinter Elaine Thompson-Herah, who won gold over 100 and 200 metres at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in the summer.
“It is such an incredible honour,” she said.
“It is an overwhelming list to even be on in the first place. If you look back at the names that have won it, I can’t comprehend that I am going to be on that list with those names. It is just incredible.
“It has been such an incredible year for sport, for women in sport, the Olympics, everything. It is phenomenal. I had a lot of support from a lot of people at home, getting anyone they knew over here to vote. People are very kind.”
Blackmore could yet add a further glorious chapter to her 2021 story, as she is due to ride Minella Indo in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Looking ahead to what 2022 could have in store, Blackmore said: “I don’t sit down at the start of the season and set myself big targets. There are so many variables in racing and things change a lot so I take it day by day. Obviously you’d love to achieve what you did before and more, but you take it day by day and try to ride winners as much as you can.
“As a jockey, every time you ride at places like Cheltenham and Aintree, you learn more about the tracks and you develop as a rider definitely. Every time you go out and ride you are always learning and improving.
“As a person this year I don’t feel any different, but I definitely wouldn’t have been standing here in front of all of you last year, so some things have definitely changed!”