Rachael Blackmore – the undisputed queen of racing

Rachael Blackmore penned another remarkable piece of racing history as her Grand National triumph on Minella Times outshone even her Cheltenham Festival heroics.

In the space of less than a month, Blackmore has ridden a wave – and a succession of brilliant horses too, of course – which will ensure her household-name status for generations to come.

As the first female jockey to win the Grand National – and the Champion Hurdle, and to be top rider at the Cheltenham Festival – she will be the default, and almost certainly correct, answer to a raft of racing trivia questions stretching long into the future.

Blackmore had long ago proved her capabilities in the saddle. But first her four glorious days in the Cotswolds and then her exemplary voyage down the inner-most tract of Aintree, and perfectly-timed challenge, on Minella Times have demonstrated her full repertoire.

Tactically astute and as strong as any in the finish, she is the complete package who has smashed the boundaries for women in racing with her virtuoso performances in Gloucestershire, on Merseyside and pretty much every racecourse she has ever visited.

Daughter of a dairy farmer and a school teacher, Blackmore could appear to some as an accidental trailblazer.

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Just the second woman to hold a professional licence in Irish National Hunt racing, her star has been firmly in the ascendant since she took the plunge and made the switch from the amateur ranks in March 2015.

She had ponies as a child in County Tipperary, but did not hail from a racing family – and after harbouring early hopes of being a vet, she eventually gained a degree in equine science, combining her studies with riding out and competing as an amateur.

Blackmore rode her first winner for John ‘Shark’ Hanlon at Thurles in February 2011, and it was he who encouraged her to make the leap – providing her with a first professional victory too at Clonmel on September 3, 2015.

That short-head triumph for Most Honourable in the lowly Woodrooff Handicap Hurdle was to prove the springboard for what has become an exceptional career.

A first major success came aboard Abolitionist in the 2017 Leinster National Handicap Chase – a season which also saw Blackmore become the first female champion conditional rider in Ireland, with 32 winners to her credit.

Lucy Alexander had completed the feat in Britain a couple of years earlier – but with less racing in Ireland and a system which allows only amateurs to compete on the lucrative bumper circuit, Blackmore’s decision could easily have backfired.

However, it has been one-way traffic since that landmark title – with some of the best trainers in Ireland queueing up to make use of Blackmore’s services, resulting in the 31-year-old finishing in the top three in the Irish championship for the last two seasons.

A link-up with Henry de Bromhead – trainer of Minella Times and her Champion Hurdle winner Honeysuckle, among many more – has undoubtedly been her most valuable association to date, and the top trainer has had no hesitation in  giving her the leg-up on his stable stars.

With a handful of Grade Three and Two victories already under her belt, Blackmore first struck Grade One gold aboard Minella Indo in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham two years ago, giving her a second Festival win after her subsequent Gold Cup runner-up A Plus Tard had triumphed earlier in that week.

She had 12 top-level victories on her CV at the start of this year’s Cheltenham Festival – the bulk provided by supermare Honeysuckle – and duly added another five in the next four days.

Her three falls in intervening races demonstrated to anyone still in any doubt that her chosen profession is among the most dangerous any sport has to offer.

There was disappointment too at Cheltenham when A Plus Tard could finish only second to De Bromhead stablemate Minella Indo in the Gold Cup.

But Blackmore is as adept at picking herself off the ground, and setting aside the setbacks, as she is at going for the right gaps and judging the right pace.

Countless times this momentous spring, she has been required to reflect on the “surreal” or “incredible” sequence of events – and has done so with charm and patience.

The truth, though, is that her achievements are believable – the culmination of years of graft and masses of talent, as this quiet pioneer continues to dismantle one supposed glass ceiling after another.

Cocaine ban interrupts Murphy’s rise to top of profession

Oisin Murphy’s three-month suspension as a result of testing positive for metabolites of cocaine brings a temporary halt to a career which has seen him rise to the top of his profession over the last few seasons.

Murphy – who vigorously contested the findings of France Galop following a test at Chantilly on July 19 – was recently confirmed as champion jockey in Britain for the second time with 142 winners, topping the table on June 8 and never being headed.

His maiden title in 2019 was the icing on the cake for a career that has seen the Cork-born rider collect Group One victories around the world on a regular basis.

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Further lustre was added to his CV this year with a first Classic triumph, courtesy of the Andrew Balding-trained Kameko in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. The victory came in the colours of Qatar Racing, for whom he was appointed number one jockey in 2016.

Murphy, 25, began riding in the UK in 2013 and quickly made an impact, crowned champion apprentice in 2014 – yet another beneficiary of the Balding academy which has also produced the likes of William Buick, appropriately his closest pursuer in this year’s title race.

His first Group One triumph came aboard Aclaim for Martyn Meade in the Prix de la Foret in 2017, and there have been many more since – including a famous success in the Japan Cup aboard Suave Richard in 2019, a win Murphy described as a “dream come true”.

He recorded three top-level triumphs in Britain in 2020, including Dream Of Dreams for Sir Michael Stoute in the Sprint Cup at Haydock.

He also rode his 1,000th domestic winner at the end of October on the Michael Dods-trained Perfect Sign, in the Qatar colours.

He told Sky Sports Racing afterwards: “I ride for great people, and it’s really nice to get my 1,000th in these colours.

“When you start out as an apprentice, you hope to just get one winner – hopefully I can ride 1,000 more in the future.

“I ride good horses all over the world – I’m very privileged and I have to remember that.”

Murphy is one of a new breed of jockeys who communicate well with the public, be it in television interviews or on social media, and that will stand him in good stead when the time comes for his return in March.