Female rider Blackmore wins Grand National
A Hollywood fantasy has turned into reality after Rachael Blackmore became the first female jockey to win Britain's grueling 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 on Saturday at odds of 11-1 in the 173rd edition of the world-famous steeplechase at Aintree in Liverpool.
"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.
But that was all make believe. Blackmore's story is a real-life fairytale.
Even though Aintree was without racegoers because of the pandemic, cheers rang out as she made her way off the course - still aboard Minella Times - and into the winner's enclosure.
"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.
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 the Cheltenham Festival 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.
A beaming Blackmore had special words for her parents, who "took me around the country riding ponies when I was younger."
"I can't believe I am Rachael Blackmore. I still feel like that little kid - I just can't believe I am me," she said.
"I hope it does help anyone who wants to be a jockey. I never thought this would be possible for me. I didn't dream of making a career as a jockey because I never thought it could happen."
The previous best performance by a female jockey in the National was Katie Walsh's third-place finish on Seabass in 2012.
That always looked under threat by Minella Times, who went out as the fourth favourite of the 40 horses in a race run over four-and-a-quarter miles and features 30 big and often brutal fences.
Blackmore timed the horse's run for glory to perfection, easing past long-time leader Jett with around three fences to jump.
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