It is just a few weeks until the Cheltenham Festival kicks off – but Rachael Blackmore admits the excitement is already starting to build at the thought of trying for a second successive Randox Grand National success.
While becoming the first woman to be crowned leading rider at the Festival 12 months ago seemed an achievement like no other, there is one race alone that reaches out to the public above all else – and in surpassing her Cheltenham feat to win aboard Minella Times at Aintree, Blackmore’s life changed forever.
The Henry de Bromhead-trained nine-year-old has been allotted 11st 4lb this year on a mark of 161, a full 15lb higher than last season.
That will make life tough, especially as he has failed to complete in two outings this tern. But Blackmore will not be deserting the horse who thrust her into the spotlight around the world.
“I suppose it starts building now, the excitement for the race. It’s just a fantastic race to be part of,” she said.
“After the race you could really feel the global appeal that it has. Cheltenham was incredible and there was so much support and media attention after that, but after Aintree it stepped up again.
“The Grand National seems to reach parts of the world that no other race does.
“It’s a massive event for Liverpool. I was getting my make-up done by a make-up artist from Liverpool earlier and she said she wouldn’t have much of an interest in racing, but since she was a kid it was such a massive day for her and her friends.
“It’s that kind of a race. It’s the first race that captures the imagination of every child, I think. When you grow up and you’re galloping round a field on your pony, it’s the race you think of.”
Given the non-stop nature of the racing world, Blackmore has never really had time to take in her achievements, and being at the peak of her powers in a career which has a shelf life, she has no intention of doing so just yet.
“Every time I watch a replay or see the beautiful picture, it’s still hard to believe it happened. It will probably be down the line when I can really and truly believe it, I’d say,” she said.
“You come home from Aintree and I think I was in Ballinrobe a few days later. It’s constantly moving, there’s constantly things happening and it might be in 50 years’ time when I’m in a nursing home sitting on a couch that I can really appreciate it!
“It’s sunk in to a certain extent, but as a jockey you’re looking forward. I’m so happy it happened, but you’re looking forward – that’s just the game you’re in.
“It’s the wheel of being a jockey – you just want to go out there and do it again.
“From the day you ride your first winner, you’re happy, but you just want to ride another one. That continues on and it would be fantastic to be able to win the Grand National again, but we’ll take every day as it comes.”
Such has been the response to her win, posters acclaiming her achievement are still up in her home town.
“I’d never really thought about what the reaction would be, but the goodwill was amazing. The amount of people that sent good wishes and I got loads of letters – it was just phenomenal,” said Blackmore.
“Everyone in my hometown of Killenaule was so supportive. When I was driving back through the town afterwards, random people had pictures up in their houses. It’s just incredible.
“There’s still one or two posters lingering – I’d say people are sick of looking at them at this stage! Hopefully they can get updated versions with 2022 pictures on.”
If there was one thing Blackmore missed out on in April it was being welcomed back in by a crowd as last year’s race was run behind closed doors, but she denies it dampened the experience.
“I can’t imagine I could have possibly felt any better,” she said.
“Cheltenham and Aintree were very different without the crowds, but I suppose that was just the way it was and it was still very special because it was a very tight-knit group of people that were there.
“The crowds are incredible. We’ve felt them the last few weeks they’ve been back. They were in Leopardstown (for the Dublin Racing Festival) and you realise how much you missed them.
“I don’t want to say too much about the crowds not being in Aintree as that’s just the way it was and we were just lucky to be there.”
While Minella Times has more weight this time around, and he has yet to recapture his best form, the jockey has full faith in her main employer to get him back to form in time for a repeat bid.
“He’s been a little bit disappointing (this season), but Henry will get him there in tip-top shape, I’ve no doubt,” said Blackmore.
“He’s in very capable hands. He’s a lot higher in the weights, but that’s just the way it is.”
Asked whether she could switch from last year’s winner, she said: “I highly doubt it!”
De Bromhead admitted to being surprised at Minella Times’ weight, and hopes he can get him back to something approaching the same form as last year.
“I’m surprised he’s that. I didn’t think he went up as much as that after he won and going on his form this year, I’m surprised he got increased,” he said.
“He loves it around Aintree and certainly did last year, so hopefully he’ll come back to form now. He’s been a little bit off form recently, but he looks like he’s coming back to form and hopefully he will by then.”