Rachael Blackmore is first female jockey to win Grand National, on Minella Times

  • ‘I don’t feel male or female right now. I don’t even feel human’
  • Cheltenham Festival leading jockey claims historic victory

As she has so often over the last few weeks, Rachael Blackmore did everything right here in the Grand National, and with a generous and willing partner in Minella Times and a little racing luck to help her on her way, it was enough to secure the first ever victory by a female jockey in the world’s most famous and demanding race. “I don’t feel male or female,” she said, a few seconds after pulling up. “I don’t even feel human, I feel unbelievable.”

In all, 32 horses with female riders had gone to post for the National before, and only Katie Walsh, who finished third on Seabass in 2012, had finished in the first four. Few had lined up with as strong a chance as Blackmore aboard Minella Times, however, and she seized the opportunity with a polished, impeccable National ride, getting a position and a rhythm while saving ground towards the inside on the first circuit before joining issue towards the head of the field with over a mile still to run.

The outsider Jett had led for much of the way and jumped the Canal Turn for the second time at least 10 lengths clear. Blackmore, though, was poised at the head of the chasing pack, along with Patrick Mullins, on Burrows Saint. Discorama, Balko Des Flos – like the winner, trained by Henry de Bromhead – were also ready to pounce as Cloth Cap, the 11-2 favourite, suddenly dropped away from a prominent position.

Blackmore was able to pick her moment, moving alongside Jett on the run to the second-last before jumping it half-a-length to the good. Another good jump from Minella Times at the last saw her set off towards the Elbow two lengths in front and Minella Times did not falter as Blackmore drove the 11-1 chance on towards a historic success.

Warwick 1.50 Onagatheringstorm 2.23 Raffle Ticket 2.55 Eyes Right 3.28 Ayr Of Elegance 4.00 Robin Of Sherwood 4.33 Imperial Knight 5.03 Pop The Cork 

Kelso 2.00 Upandatit 2.31 Dequall 3.05 Damiens Dilemma 3.36 On A Promise (nap) 4.10 Democratic Oath (nb) 4.41 Roderick Random 5.11 Well Educated 

Plumpton 2.15 Touchthesoul 2.45 Aheadfullofdreams 3.20 Neff 3.50 Spotty Dog 4.25 Just A Sip 4.55 Away For Slates 5.30 Kimmins

Balko Des Flos, at 100-1, was second, giving De Bromhead a 1-2 in the Grand National, 22 days after recording the same feat in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham. Blackmore was on the runner-up there, having picked the wrong one from the trainer’s two starters, but it was the only setback in a brilliant four days which saw her become the first female rider to win the prize for the Cheltenham Festival’s top jockey.

Cheltenham also propelled Blackmore on to the front pages, and secured star status for the 31-year-old rider among the racing and betting public ahead of National Hunt racing’s most storied event. Minella Times was backed to win even before Blackmore had been confirmed as his rider, and millions more arrived on the day from once-a-year punters who were putting their faith in the rider rather than the horse.

Rachael Blackmore on Minella Times jump the Chair on their way to victory
Rachael Blackmore and Minella Times (right) jump the Chair on their way to victory. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Observer

“I just got such an unbelievable passage through the race,” she said afterwards. “Minella Times just jumped fantastic and brought me from fence to fence. Ruby Walsh and Katie Walsh, I’ve asked them both in the past about riding around here and they often talk about a semi-circle in front of you and I felt like I had that everywhere.

“That is what you need in a race like this, you need so much luck to get around with no one else interfering first of all. You need so much to go right and things went right for me today. I feel so incredibly lucky. It is unbelievable, I’m just so thrilled.”

Blackmore found an ideal path for Minella Times in a race where luck – for both good and ill – can play its part like no other. Mark Walsh, on the well-fancied Any Second Now, was not so fortunate, losing several lengths – perhaps even as many as the eight and a quarter by which he was beaten – when Double Shuffle fell in front of him on the first circuit and almost brought him down. In the circumstances, Any Second Now did exceptionally well to finish third, while another of the market leaders, Burrows Saint, faded from a good position two out to finish fourth.

De Bromhead was the first trainer to saddle the winners of the three biggest races at Cheltenham at the same Festival last month, and he has now added the Grand National to complete an extraordinary, unprecedented grand slam.

Bryony Frost, one of three female riders in the Grand National, was taken to hospital for observation after she was unseated from the Paul Nicholls-trained Yala Enki in the closing stages of the race.

Harry Cobden, the retained rider for Nicholls, was also admitted after a heavy fall from Lucky One in an earlier hurdle race at Aintree. Nicholls, for whom both jockeys ride, said: “Harry has had facial fractures and he’s being kept in tonight. Bryony was taken to hospital with concussion but we don’t know any more yet.”

Frost, who burst into public consciousness when becoming the first female to ride a Grade One winner over jumps when she was successful on Frodon at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, was knocked out when her mount unseated her at the 20th fence.

There was a sad postscript to the National when The Long Mile, one of seven runners owned by JP McManus, who was able to celebrate the success of Minella Times, had to be put down after suffering a serious injury. The horse was trained in Ireland by Patrick Dempsey and ridden by his son Luke. The death of The Long Mile was only the second fatality from 318 runners in the National since the fences were modified by Aintree officials in 2013. Tony Paley

“It’s the stuff you dream about,” he said. “I’ve been watching it since I was a kid. I’m just so lucky. She [Blackmore] is brilliant, isn’t she? We’re so lucky to have her, they broke the mould after her.

“She’s tough and brilliant. You can see that [after] she joined us, we have gone from strength to strength with her. She’s a fantastic rider, a great team player and just a lovely person to work with. She’s breaking through all the records.”

The only disappointment on an unforgettable day at Aintree was that the 100,000-strong crowd that would have been at the track to acclaim the winner in normal times was watching the race on TV instead.

In Blackmore, however, racing has found a new icon to draw fans back to the track, and speculation about her likely partner in the National will be a feature of the buildup to the big race for as long as she continues to ride.

She is the superstar the sport needed so urgently after a year with no spectators on the racecourse, and there is every sign that the astonishing chapter which she added to her story aboard Minella Times on Saturday will not be the last.


Greg Wood at Aintree

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