Rachael Blackmore's amazing journey from hitching a ride to the Festival because she had no money to Queen of Cheltenham
RACHAEL BLACKMORE will head to the Festival as Cheltenham’s belle of the ball.
Yet the girl now hailed as racing royalty certainly won’t be getting carried away… the days when she was Cinderella are still too fresh in the memory.
A year ago Blackmore’s six winners – a tally only ever topped by the great Ruby Walsh – saw her crowned leading jockey and made her the most famous face in jumps racing.
Oh, and just for good measure, she followed up by becoming the first female to land the world’s most famous race, when Minella Times romped to Grand National glory.
Now the girl-next-door from the tiny Tipperary town of Killenaule is back for more, with hot Champion Hurdle favourite Honeysuckle the stand-out in another week of, well, stand-outs.
A Plus Tard, Bob Olinger, Telmesomethinggirl… so many red-hot fancies in so many red-hot races.
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The thought she will ever struggle to find a Cheltenham ride again is unimaginable… yet that was the case on her first visit to National Hunt’s HQ.
Back then she was still a young conditional, who came over for a first-hand taste of the famous atmosphere, at a time when simply riding in any race at the Festival was a dream.
So with bags packed, and a couple of pals in tow, the wide-eyed trio landed at Birmingham Airport… and realised they had no idea how to get the 50-odd miles to Cheltenham itself!
There was only one thing for it – thumbs out in the hope of hitching a ride. Which they managed when a couple of businessmen found room in the back of their car.
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These days it is a well-trodden route. Yet close pal, fellow jockey – and housemate – Patrick Mullins takes great delight in ribbing her about that first trip over.
Patrick, who has a couple of well-fancied rides himself this week, revealed: “She’d have only been 19 or 20, with a couple of friends, and they had no money for a taxi or anything.
“They ended up getting a lift from two guys in suits who were going to the races. I can’t imagine Ruby ever had to do that, or David Beckham to get to Old Trafford!”
No more than Mullins, or anyone else back then, could have imagined the “monster” – Patrick’s mickey-taking description – she would become.
Not that it has changed her a bit, mind. Blackmore is still the publicity-shy, down-to-earth kid who has done more to raise her sport’s profile than any other rider in the modern era.
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When she signed the weighing-room wall after her National win – an Aintree tradition – she was more enamoured with the smell of the pen than the fuss surrounding her achievement.
At another event in her honour – and there have been many – it was the fact you could get black tablecloths.
So no surprise to learn it was only on seeing the windows bedecked with Blackmore posters as she drove home a year ago that it really started to sink in.
Rachael, still trying to play it all down some 12 months on, admitted: “It’s obviously massive but I try not to get too rocked up on all of that.
“I suppose when I was driving through my home town and saw posters in peoples’ homes with my face on. Then it really resonated what it meant to the people where I am from.
“Maybe it’s boring, but last year seems to be fading a bit now. It will probably sink it when I have got grey hair and can really enjoy what it was.
BATTALION OF FANS FOLLOWING HER OVER
“I know how hard it is to get winners at Cheltenham and you’re going in the same mind frame as every year – hoping to get one winner. I will go back with that view again.”
While the super six of 2021 came in front of just staff, officials and a working few, this time 270,000 fans will flock to Cheltenham over the four days hoping to see more history.
Among them will be a sizeable contingent of Blackmore fans… as one of Rachael’s biggest tasks has been sorting out enough tickets.
She added: “My sister asked me for tickets for Thursday and Friday and I said ‘yes, no problem, how many do you need?’ She asked for ten for each day!
“So she’s definitely coming with a battalion and mum and dad hopefully for a day.”
Mum and dad are Eimir and Charles – a teacher and farmer – while sister is Charlotte, a qualified lawyer, and brother Jonathan a graphic designer.
Rachael herself gained a degree in equine science at the University of Limerick, while riding out and competing as an amateur jockey.
Her career really took off after becoming stable jockey to Henry De Bromhead, and head lad Davy Roche insists Blackmore has never changed a bit.
Roche revealed: “You get some people who ride two or three winners and think they’ve made it as a jockey, but Rachael couldn’t be farther away from that.
QUIET LIFE WITH BOYFRIEND
“She’s the same now as the day she walked in… and has worked her arse off to get where she is! Everything she’s got has come through hard graft.”
Mullins moved in with Rachael and her boyfriend and fellow jockey Brian Hayes 'six or seven years' ago, and reckons there is a reason the golden girl has stayed the same.
He added: “She was quite mature, about 27 or 28, when success came, so maybe her mindset was a bit different.
“As much of a cliché as it sounds, she knew how to appreciate it and what it was like not to have it, so it hasn’t gone to her head.”
And there is an added bonus for Patrick with the champagne that comes into their place in Leighlinbridge, County Carlow, these days – Rachael and Brian are teetotal.
Mullins joked: “Neither of them drink, and I don’t mean just alcohol, but tea or coffee as well. Brian orders pints of milk if we go to a restaurant, and Rachael is just on diluted water.
“It means I get my share of the champagne. But there are plenty of friends who get to enjoy the champagne – she’s not afraid to throw a party.”
You’d be surprised if she isn’t planning another bash in a week or so, too. She won’t give up that crown without a fight, that’s for sure.
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