Rachael Blackmore made history yesterday by becoming the first female jockey to win the Grand National Steeplechase. The 31-year old Irish jockey rode Minella Times to the victory at a closed track. It’s a shame that only a handful of people got to see her historic victory live. Last year the Grand National was canceled due to the Coronavirus.
“I don’t feel male or female right now. I don’t even feel human,” Blackmore said. “This is just unbelievable.”
Until now, the only female to “win” the race was Velvet Brown (Elizabeth Taylor), competing with The Pie, a horse she won in a raffle in the movie National Velvet. However, in the movie, Brown was disqualified on a technicality, having dismounted before reaching the enclosure. [Side note: Taylor was given The Pie after filming the movie.]
However, in 1944, when the movie was made, women jockeys were not allowed to compete in the Grand National. Not to mention Taylor was only 12 years old when she made that movie! To ride in the Grand National today, jockeys, whether amateur or professional, must have ridden at least 15 winners – of which at least ten must have been in steeplechases governed by the Rules of Racing in Britain or Ireland
Female jockeys in the UK were not allowed until the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 was passed. Even then, it was two more years until Charlotte Brew competed in the Grand National on her horse, Barony Fort. She got as far as the 27th fence until her horse refused. It wasn’t until 1982 that Geraldine Rees became the first female jockey to complete the course. She finished in eighth place on Cheers. Charlotte Brew competed in that race again, on Martinstown, marking the first time two women rode in the Grand National. Keep in mind, this is a race that has forty starters.
In 1988, female participation was at an all-time high, as three women entered for the first time. Penny Ffitch-Heyes, Venetia Williams and Gee Armytage all started the race. None of their horses completed the race. It was 11 more years until another female jockey rode in the Grand National. In 2005 Carrie Ford finished in fifth on Forest Gunner. At the time it was the highest placing finish of any woman.
In 2012, Katie Walsh became the first female jockey to finish in the top three riding Seabass. Walsh, and Nina Carberry, both have started in six Grand Nationals. The oldest female jockey to compete in the race was 51-year old Rosemary Henderson, who finished fifth won her own 100/1 shot Fiddlers Pike.
So, 44 years after Charlotte Brew blazed the trail for women to compete in the Grand National, Rachael Blackmore has taken the crown. She is only the 20th female jockey to compete in the race.
The daughter of a dairy farmer and a school teacher, Blackmore grew up on a farm riding ponies — foxhunting, pony clubs and races. She clocked her first win at age 13 at a pony race and was hooked. Although she always wanted to be an amateur jockey, she turned professional in 2015 and has been the superhero of Irish racing since. Just a few weeks ago she was the first woman to be named the leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival with six wins, and now she’s topped even that honor with the Grand National win.
“I just got such an unbelievable passage through the race,” she said afterwards. “Minella Times just jumped fantastic and brought me from fence to fence. Ruby Walsh and Katie Walsh, I’ve asked them both in the past about riding around here and they often talk about a semi-circle in front of you and I felt like I had that everywhere. “That is what you need in a race like this, you need so much luck to get around with no one else interfering first of all. You need so much to go right and things went right for me today. I feel so incredibly lucky. It is unbelievable, I’m just so thrilled.”
Enjoy the race below and also the interview with Rachael Blackmore, who is as humble as she is talented.