by Polly Portwin

Sporting commentators have almost run out of superlatives to describe racing heroine Rachael Blackmore after her victory at Aintree in last Saturday’s Grand National while riding Minella Times for trainer Henry de Bromhead. After the sad news of the passing of HRH Prince Philip the day before, it took a fairy tale to come true to make the nation smile again (and perhaps even weep a few tears of joy) regardless of whether or not you had backed the winner. With Tactical - a horse she owns and bred - winning at Newmarket on Wednesday, we can only hope The Queen herself has also been able to find some comfort from her beloved racing throughout this difficult period.

Racing as a sport had a difficult spring following the Gordon Elliott issue, however Rachael’s success at both Cheltenham and then again at Aintree, couldn’t have come at a better time with positive news stories being thrust into the mainstream and making racing something that people want to be associated with. Parallels have been drawn with hunting and although any sporting activity can face challenges, there is always a way forward and positives to be found which must be celebrated and embraced wherever possible.

A wonderful image has been circulating since the Cheltenham Festival of a young Rachael shaking hands with Timmy Hyde, former joint-master of the Tipperary Foxhounds at a children’s meet many years ago. Although she didn’t come from a racing background, Dickie Power, hunting correspondent for the Irish Field, described Rachael as “coming from a truly sporting family” and remembers seeing her mounted at a meet alongside her father at Coolmore, close to her family farm, long before there was any sign of her becoming a history maker. 

Like so many of those following hounds today whose equestrian skills have been honed on the hunting field, Rachael was also a keen member of the Pony Club, being competitive in mounted games and show jumping amongst other disciplines before turning to point-to-pointing. With so many of the UK and Ireland’s top jockeys – male and female - recognising the importance of hunting for their own stickability and horsemanship, you can be sure that some of the stars of the future are already following hounds and they’ve probably given many of us a lead at some point! 

As Rachael said in one of her many interviews following the big race, every little girl who ever sat on a pony dreams of winning the Grand National, National Velvet-style. Although Rachael prefers to be recognised simply as a jockey, she appreciates the significance of being the first female to win the Grand National amongst her other achievements, and along with the other successful female jockeys in the weighing-room, she will inspire an entire generation of little girls. For years, young lads have wanted to ride like John Francome, AP McCoy or Frankie Dettori on the Flat, but now the girls have their own heroines to aspire to. 

Let’s hope that racing – including point-to-pointing and pony racing - can soon enjoy the return of crowds so that those who have been inspired by their role models can witness them in action, while Rachael and her weighing-room colleagues can enjoy seeing the widespread impact they are having too.

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