Rachel Blackmore reigned supreme at Cheltenham and Aintree this season – and this weekend, she has France in her sights as she rides Ajas in the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris.
Blackmore became the face of the National Hunt game when crowned leading rider at the Cheltenham Festival and then making history with her Grand National victory on Minella Times.
On Sunday, she will be seeking to become the first female jockey to win the most prestigious race of its kind in France, when she teams up with trainer and former champion jockey David Cottin to ride Ajas.
“It’s a privilege to be able to ride in the race and even better when you get to ride a horse like Ajas,” said Blackmore.
“I have watched his videos, and he looks a very nice horse to ride, very straightforward – and it also looks like he’s improving. He is a very exciting horse to ride.
“It’s going to be my first time over there, my first time riding on that track. I think he is a very nice horse to get to experience Auteuil – he knows what he is doing more than anything.”
Coronavirus restrictions have made life tougher for travelling jockeys, of course, and it will be a flying visit for Blackmore – who has called on two of the best when asking for advice.
“Quarantine issues are quite strict, so I am not arriving in France until Sunday morning, and I will walk the track then, and get a feel for it. I also spoke with Ruby (Walsh) during the week, and David Cottin – and he will obviously be able to tell me a lot more than most trainers, I think, about riding the track,” she said.
“I will definitely speak to some people about this, and walk the course myself. At the end of the day, I am the one riding it, and have to kind of figure it out for myself.
“I have obviously only seen pictures and videos (of the fences at Auteuil) – and they look massive! They do look very big, but I am very excited to be able to ride round there – and getting to ride a horse like Ajas makes it all the more exciting.
“In Ireland and England, we have Cheltenham, Punchestown, and the Grand National, but I think that they are closely followed by the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris.
“It’s definitely a race that we would always watch and admire. It’s a race that you would be very excited to be taking part in, and I am just excited about it more than anything!”
Isabelle Pacault was the first female trainer to win the Grand Steeple in 2019 with Carriacou – while Louisa Carberry, married to Champion Hurdle-winning jockey Philip, followed suit last year with Docteur de Ballon. Both former winners line up again.