It’s fair to say that female jockeys have been making a name for themselves more and more in recent years, with the victory of Rachael Blackmore in the Champion Hurdle just the next step on that journey. It’s a step that had to be taken, however, and Blackmore’s victory in the Grade 1 event on the back of Honeysuckle is an incredibly impressive one. By crossing the finish line before anyone else, Blackmore became the first female jockey to win the race.
Honeysuckle was the favourite going into the race, having won every event that she’s taken part in so far in her racing career. The victory was her 11th in succession, keeping last year’s runner-up Sharjah in second-place and easily beating last year’s winner Epatante. Yet it’s the achievement of Blackmore that will steal the headlines, such is the extent to which she’s been able to push the achievements of female jockeys into the limelight.
Women Are The Equal Of Men
Horse racing is one of the few sports in existence where women are the equals of their male counterparts, which is demonstrated by the fact that Rachael Blackmore finished second in the Irish Jockeys’ Championship last season. She is at the forefront of women in the sport, being given top rides by the trainers that she works with when in the past they might well have gone to a male jockey for first refusal.
Honeysuckle was always well-fancied in the Champion Hurdle, which is the key race of Day One of the Cheltenham Festival, so the owners and trainer would have had their pick of jockeys to ride her. They opted for Blackmore, however, and will be delighted that she’s repaid their faith by making history with the horse. The win comes around three months after another female jockey, Bryony Frost, made history when she won the King George VI Chase on Frodon.
This could turn out to be the Festival of women, with Frost taking Frodon into the Gold Cup in the hope of repeating her King George success. Blackmore will ride in that race too, this time on the back of Honeysuckle’s stablemate, A Plus Tard. After the ride that Blackmore gave her mare in the Champion Hurdle, it’s likely that we’ll see the betting for the Gold Cup shift in her favour too. Little wonder after such an impressive performance in this race.
What’s Being Said About The Win
Unsurprisingly, people have been falling over themselves to comment on Blackmore’s historic success. The trainer of Honeysuckle, Henry de Bromhead, said that Blackmore is a ‘brilliant rider on any horse’ and that the combination worked because Honeysuckle is a ‘brilliant horse’. He said, “It was unbelievable. She’s a very laid-back, chilled out mare; she’s amazing,” having watched Blackmore wait until just before the final fence to make her move.
Katie Walsh, who is herself a former winning jockey at the Cheltenham Festival, used the same word as de Bromhead to describe Blackmore’s victory when commentating on the race for BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra. She said:
“Absolutely brilliant. I just think it is brilliant. She deserves this so much. She works hard and it is history. I am delighted for the person she is and she is a credit to the sport and a fantastic jockey. She has brought it to another level. It is great and so special to be watching on.”
It was referred to as a ‘joyous day for racing’ by former jump jockey Charlie Poste, whilst Blackmore herself spoke of the ‘privilege’ she feels. She said:
“Absolutely incredible. I am speechless to be honest. I really am. I can’t believe we just won the Champion Hurdle. Incredible. Unbelievable for everyone in the yard, they all work so hard. It doesn’t matter what you are. We are jockeys. It is just a privilege to be here.”
Applauded Into The Winners’ Enclosure
There’s no doubt that this year is one of the strangest Cheltenham Festival’s that there has ever been, given the lack of supporters in attendance at Prestbury Park. That didn’t stop Rachael Blackmore and Honeysuckle being applauded into the Winners’ Enclosure, however. Those in attendance, which is largely made up of other jockeys, trainers and other necessary professionals, gave horse and rider a rousing reception as they made their way to the Enclosure.
It will ensure that the lack of race-goers in the venue for the race won’t take the shine off Blackmore’s historic achievement. She has now added her name to an exclusive list of female jockeys that have won a race during the Cheltenham Festival and an even more exclusive one of those that have won one of the meeting’s standout events. Many will now be wondering whether she can go one step further and win the Gold Cup.
A Smooth Ride
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Blackmore’s win was just how little fuss or bother there was for her during the race. Abacadabras, as an example, fell at the third hurdle and Goshen, who had also been well backed in the build-up to the race, lost his chance of victory when taking a wide route. It was better than last year when he unseated Jamie Moore at the final jump, but still meant that he wasn’t in the race at the final moments.
Honeysuckle, meanwhile, rode smoothy round the circuit and waited until she’d jumped the penultimate hurdle before Blackmore moved her into the lead. From there she had no trouble up the hill, leaving the others in her wake. It was an accomplished performance from both jockey and steed that will leave many thinking that there’s a promising future for both, if they didn’t already think as much. For Blackmore, it might well prove to be a beautiful partnership.
Charlie Poste hinted at as much when he said that her relationship with Honeysuckle is ‘a joy to behold’, declaring Blackmore to be ‘as good as any jockey right now’. He also said that the victory and the manner of it ‘highlights all that is good in our sport’. Though not explicitly stated, this might well be a reference to the Gordon Elliott affair that has overshadowed the Festival in recent weeks. The victory of Blackmore will make headlines for all of the right reasons.