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The Grand National 2021: Is Racing Progressive?

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After the Irish won 23 out of the 28 races at the Cheltenham festival this year, many involved in English racing had hoped things would be different at Aintree. There seemed to be hope as the first three races of the meeting were won by Alex Ferguson owned horses and Paul Nicholls was indeed the leading trainer of the three-day meeting. 

However, the queen of Cheltenham, Rachel Blackmore, was not going to give away the glory. She and Henry de Bromhead, winner of the Festival ‘Holy Trinity’, won the greatest horse race on earth, on the J P McManus owned ‘Minella Times’. It was a second win in the race for the famous green and gold colours of McManus after ‘Don’t Push It’ in 2010. It was a first for de Bromhead, who having never previously won the race had a win – two with ‘Balko des Flos’ in second. But, it was Rachel Blackmore making history that stole the show. 

Having her first winner in 2011, nobody could have predicted the potential Blackmore had in the saddle. After turning professional, she rode 2 winners in Ireland during 2014/15 season, 6 the season after and then 32, 34, 90, 61 – shortened by Covid-19 – and already 85 and counting for the current season. Katie Walsh, the previously highest-placed female jockey in the Grand National, described Blackmore as ‘an inspiration to males and females alike’. When asked after the race about being the first female jockey to win, Blackmore replied, 

“I don’t feel male or female right now. I don’t even feel human.”

Not long after she hit the big stage the term ‘female jockey’ was soon replaced with just ‘jockey’. As Ruby Walsh observed racing is one of the few sports where men and women can compete for equal pay and prize money on a day-to-day basis and Blackmore is an inspirational representation of the sport. 

The race was run at a strong pace with the Jessica Harrington trained ‘Jetts’, leading for the majority of the race, ridden by Sam Waley-Cohen. He is looking to become the first amateur jockey to win the National since Marcus Armytage in 1990 on Mister Frisk. Patrick Mullins, another successful amateur jockey, who finished third on his father’s trained Burrows Saint, was upside Blackmore with a circuit to go. But, after jumping the second last fence, Mullins admitted that he just ‘couldn’t go with her’. 

McCoy summed it up perfectly; “It’s all about Rachael Blackmore. She’s amazing as she’s tactically aware and so tough. You have to have so much talent to be in her position.”

Yesterday’s National race will go down in history, and after a trying year with Covid restrictions in the racing industry, it seems fitting that Rachael Blackmore took such a victory. 

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