A Hollywood fantasy turned into reality on Saturday when Rachael Blackmore became the first female jockey to win Britain’s gruelling Grand National horse race, breaking down one of the biggest gender barriers in sports.
Blackmore, a 31-year-old Irishwoman, rode Minella Times to a landmark victory at odds of 11 to 1 in the 173rd edition of the famous steeplechase at Aintree in Liverpool, northwest England
“I don’t feel male or female right now. I don’t even feel human,” Blackmore said. “This is just unbelievable.”
Blackmore is the 20th female jockey to compete in a race that has been a mud-splattered British sporting institution since 1839. Women have only been allowed to enter the National as jockeys since 1975, making it a male-dominated event — until now.
“I never even imagined I’d get a ride in this race, never mind get my hands on the trophy,” Blackmore said.
After all, the 1944 Hollywood movie National Velvet was the story of a 12-year-old girl, Velvet Brown — played by a young Elizabeth Taylor — who won the Grand National on The Pie, a gelding she won in a raffle and one she decided to train for the world’s biggest horse race. In the story, Brown was later disqualified on a technicality, having dismounted before reaching the enclosure.
Even though Aintree was without race-goers because of the pandemic, cheers rang out as Blackmore made her way off the course — still aboard Minella Times — and into the winner’s enclosure. She looked as if she couldn’t believe what she had done.
“For all the girls who watched National Velvet!” tweeted Hayley Turner, a former female jockey. “Thank you Rachael Blackmore, we’re so lucky to have you.”
Blackmore, the daughter of a dairy farmer and school teacher, grew up on a farm and rode ponies. She didn’t have a classic racing upbringing, though, making her ascent in the sport all the more inspirational.
A professional jockey since 2015, she rode the second-most winners in Irish jump racing in 2018-19, the same season she won her first races at the prestigious Cheltenham Festival. She was already the face of British and Irish horse racing before arriving at Aintree, having become the first woman to finish as the leading jockey at Cheltenham three weeks ago.
Now she’s won the biggest race of them all, one that even non-horse racing enthusiasts turn on to watch and one that first captured Blackmore’s imagination. Indeed, her first memory of horse racing is going over to a friend’s house and taking part in a sweepstake for the National.