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Grand National 2021: Rachael is Aintree's first lady

Liverpool Echo logo Liverpool Echo 10/04/2021 Chris Wright

It was a race and a meeting like no other. And for the first time in the storied history of the world's greatest steeplechase it was ladies first in a historic victory.

Rachael Blackmore powered to glory on board the Henry De Bromhead-trained Minella Times (11-1) to become the first female jockey to win the Randox Grand National.

She may not have been roared home by the usual 70,000-strong Merseyside crowd at Aintree Racecourse with the COVID-19 restrictions meaning sport continues to go on behind-closed-doors.

But it was one a memorable running - the 173rd - of the most famous National Hunt contest.

Back after last year's hiatus we saw the peerless Blackmore continue to make history. And in so doing provide another reason of why we love this Liverpool race so much.

In the 183-year history of the Aintree showpiece, Blackmore's friend and former weighing room colleague Katie Walsh had been the closest to becoming the first of her sex to ride the winner. She could only finish third aboard her father Ted's Seabass behind Neptune Collonges and Sunnyhillboy in 2012. But as the now Aintree ambassador Walsh had said in interviews before the Aintree showpiece it was only a matter of time before a woman rode to glory.

And it is the perfect time for Blackmore. She just keeps on coming first as aboard the JP McManus-trained Minella Times she led home an Irish whitewash in the Grand National with the first five home all trained in the Emerald Isle.

Blackmore had spearheaded a similar Irish massacre at last month's Cheltenham Festival with 23 of the 28 winners coming from Ireland.

She created history there - becoming the first woman to be leading jockey at the Festival and also the first to land one of the feature contests, the Unibet Champion Hurdle aboard another De Bromhead horse, super mare Honeysuckle.

The talent from Tipperary was at it again at Aintree, although she couldn't quite fathom what she had achieved.

a group of people riding on the back of a horse: Rachael Blackmore riding Minella Times (C) clear the last to win The Randox Grand National Handicap Chase at Aintree Racecourse on April 10, 2021 in Liverpool, England. © Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images Rachael Blackmore riding Minella Times (C) clear the last to win The Randox Grand National Handicap Chase at Aintree Racecourse on April 10, 2021 in Liverpool, England.

The 31-year-old said: "This is the Aintree Grand National. I'm completely blown away.

"I got a fantastic passage the whole way. Minella Times was unbelievable, he jumped fantastic, I don't think he missed a beat anywhere.

"He was able to travel into a gap, I seemed to have loads of space everywhere and you couldn't have wished for a better passage. He was just unbelievable, he really was, his jumping was second to none.

"I'm so lucky to be riding these horses for Henry de Bromhead. He trained a one-two there which is incredible. That can't be forgotten in the whole scheme of things.

"It's great to win it in these colours, too. It's always a privilege to ride for JP McManus and to win it for him is unbelievable. They've had a tough year so hopefully this can make things a little easier.

"This is a massive deal for me personally, not the fact I'm a female. The thing that hit me when I crossed the line was that I'd won the National, not that I'm the first female to win the National. I'm just delighted."I just cannot believe it. He was an absolutely sensational spin.

"What Henry de Bromhead does with these horses, I don't know! I'm so lucky to be riding them, I just cannot believe I'm after winning the Grand National. This is unbelievable."

Trainer De Bromhead was himself landing a first victory in the Grand National. For good measure the Irish handler made it a one-two with 100-1 outsider Balko Des Flos six-and-a-half lengths back in second.

Ted Walsh's Any Second Now (15-2) - another McManus runner ridden by Aidan Coleman - was a further length-and-three-quarters back in third. Willie Mullins' Burrows Saint (9-1) was 19 lengths further adrift in fourth with the Denise Foster-trained Farclas (16-1) two lengths back in fifth to complete a clean sweep for Irish horses.

De Bromhead, was himself a history-maker, after becoming the first trainer to win the three big feature races at the Cheltenham Festival with Honeysuckle (Champion Hurdle), Put The Kettle ON (Champion Chase) and Minella Indo (Cheltenham Gold Cup) and now the first to secure the big four with his debut Grand National success.

He also became the first to do the Cheltenham Gold Cup-Grand National double in the same season since Fred Rimell in 1976 with Royal Frolic and Rag Trade.

De Bromhead, though, was full of praise for Blackmore, saying: "It's fantastic. Rachael is breaking all records. We're just delighted.

"Balko Des Flos ran a cracker and Chris's Dream was going very well, but unfortunately he unshipped Darragh O'Keeffe four out. They all ran really well.

"It looked like Rachael had the race won at the last, but we all know how that can change. Any Second Now looked a bit unlucky with his passage and he started to come back at us and obviously Balko was staying on as well.

"Rachael got a great passage all the way round, a lot of luck on her side and he winged fences for her. It was brilliant.

"She knows the horse very well. We were unfortunate during the winter when having a couple of great runs and just getting beaten, but this made up for it.

"We put National-type fences together last week and it seems to have helped, but he's such a brilliant jumper anyway. He was so good all the way."

He added: "I thought I was dreaming after Cheltenham so this is amazing, it's incredible and Rachael was unbelievable. It's incredible to do it for the McManus' family and we got a clear run the whole way.

"Of course you dream of winning this, but it was a distant dream. Anyone in the jumping game wants to win it, so I'm just so fortunate.

"Rachael is brilliant and we're so lucky to have her, I think they broke the mould with her, what can you say?

"It's a good partnership, you can see from when she joined us how we've gone from strength to strength. She's just a fantastic rider and a lovely person to work with.

"I'm back on the ferry tonight so that's something to look forward to!"

Another Irish raider, the Jessica Harrington-trained Jett, was bowling along under Sam Waley-Cohen in front well ahead of the field for much of the race, with 11-2 favourite Cloth Cap and Burrows Saint prominent behind him.

But when Cloth Cap began to fade and Jett tired, Blackmore made her move on Minella Times.

She came through to lead coming to the final fence and history beckoned.

Blackmore, as she has done plenty of times in this remarkable season, powered clear for a famous win.

It was a second success for McManus following Don't Push It's victory under Sir Anthony McCoy in 2011. And the powerful Irish owner has now sent out 75 runners in the Aintree marathon since his Deep Gale fell at the first fence in 1982.

But while it was Ireland all the way, the first British-trained horse home of the 15 finishers was Dan Skelton’s Blaklion – fourth in the Aintree marathon when trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies in 2017 – under his brother Harry Skelton.

The well-backed Takingrisks, Mister Malarky and Kimberlite Candy were all pulled up – while Harrington’s Magic Of Light, second to Tiger Roll in 2019, unseated her rider.

David Pipe’s Aintree regular Vieux Lion Rouge fell for the first time at the 18th on his 10th run over the Grand National fences – but he has now jumped more of the big obstacles – now 250 – than any other horse in history.

Sadly another horse owned by McManus, the Jonathan Dempsey-trained The Long Mile, had to be put down after being pulled up.

While another female rider Bryony Frost, who was unseated from Yala Enki at the 20th, was taken to hospital for assessment.

But after last year’s cancellation and a year hugely disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, it was just good to the return of the world’s greatest steeplechase. And an historic success.

Roll on Saturday, April 9 2022 when spectators will, hopefully, again be able to share in the spectacle.

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