Bearing in mind the origins of her racing career, it is perhaps apt that Rachael Blackmore finds herself locked at the top of the Irish Jockey Championship with Paul Townend.
Currently Townend, backed by the might of Willie Mullins, stands on 85 winners to Blackmore’s 81 in what is very much a two-horse race - the next best rider back is on 55 winners for the current season.
So, understandably, Blackmore relishes every winner against her rival, although none more so than her first at the age of 13 in a pony club race.
“Paul would have been the champion pony racer or whatever it was and I was very much the amateur that came in and managed to beat him to the line,” she said.
“We still have the video. It’s very funny. Paul looks so polished and really good, while I look, well, like any child would look. He definitely looks like the champion jockey of the future.
“They did a documentary called Jump Girls and it featured in that, so there was a far bit of slagging around that. It’s mad how things develop in life.”
Blackmore is enough of a realist to accept that ahead of a series of big meetings, she would “want to be a good chunk ahead of Paul” in the current standings but, in the latter part of the season, she is still in contention to be the first female jockey to win the championship.
To her mind, gender is irrelevant and yet overall victory over the course of a season would be a glass ceiling moment for the sport. Despite that, she plays down its potential importance: “I’m just thinking of Cheltenham now. That’s what’s on my mind now.”
Blackmore featured in an ITV Racing feature this time last year entitled ‘Racing’s Greatest Female Jump Jockey’, in which the trainer Jessica Harrington suggested women had to work twice as hard as their male counterparts to make their mark in the sport.
The jockey, however, sees it differently. “I think if you’re a jockey male or female, you have to work just as hard,” she said. “That’s just my view on it.”
Growing up, the dream was always to be a jockey. She rode just a handful of point-to-point and amateur winners before turning professional in 2015. Back then, it was the female jockeys she notably looked up to in Katie Walsh and Nina Carberry, as well as the likes of Ruby Walsh and Davy Russell.
Despite playing down the importance of her gender, she does at least like the idea she might be inspiring other would-be female jockeys to get into the saddle.
“Oh yeah, that’s a very nice position to be in,” she said. “I always wanted to be a jockey growing up but never envisaged that I could be a professional and doing a job I love.”
Instead, she shifted her ambitions to becoming a vet, although claims her lack of academic prowess meant that became an impossibility so she chased the racing ambitions instead.
Her mother had predicted an adventurous career for her daughter, who had a propensity to repeatedly climb out of her cot as soon as she could move.
As a would-be rider, it was the Grand National that first grabbed an impressionable young Blackmore, taking part in a sweepstake at a friend’s house nearby, although she cannot remember the year or the winner.
But the National has slipped behind the Cheltenham Gold Cup in terms of the race she would most like to win.
“The Grand National is very special but the Cheltenham Gold Cup is very different, that would be the one,” she said.
This year’s Festival will be very different. 12 months on from packed stands, the roaring crowds will be replaced by British and Irish jump racing’s biggest showcase taking place behind closed doors.
Looking at the pictures from last year this week, she admitted it was hard as “everyone’s become so far removed from that kind of world now”. And while she’s got used to crowd-less racing, a silent Festival will take some adapting too.
“Everyone’s going to miss people there and I don’t think we’ll fully understand that until we get there,” she added. “But the goal’s still the same. You’re just trying to win every race that you can, it’s just Cheltenham’s extra special. It’s where every jockey wants to ride winners.”
The Cheltenham Gold Cup Festival will be broadcast on ITV Racing 16th-20th March. For more information please visit greatbritishracing.com
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