2021 was a special year for jockey Rachael Blackmore. As well as becoming the first woman to ride a Grand National winner, she dominated at the Cheltenham Festival, arguably the most prestigious in National Hunt racing. The Irishwoman claimed the top jockey award after six victories at the 2021 Festival.
Rachael Blackmore is top jockey at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival! 🌟 pic.twitter.com/5svMVP9Ry3— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) March 19, 2021
What does that mean for 2022? It means that the pressure is on for her to recreate the same form. Punters will be looking to her for inspiration when they place their bets, meaning the scrutiny will be more intense than ever. Regardless, she still has what it takes to score a couple of winners.
The Pick of the Field
Thanks to Blackmore’s connections, the jockey will always have quality rides to choose from at any meeting, and Cheltenham in 2022 is no different. Consider the horse racing odds from Paddy Power that have Minella Indo as the 6/1 favourite and A Plus Tard as the 7/1 second-favourite for the Gold Cup. It’s by far the biggest race of the week, possibly the year, and Blackmore has a claim to both runners.
Typically, she rides for Henry De Bromhead, the trainer who helped her bag most of her Cheltenham winners in 2021, which is why she rode A Plus Tard in the last Gold Cup. Most jockeys would kill for a relationship like that, but Blackmore hasn’t rested on her laurels. Instead, she’s worked hard and found herself in the good graces of another world-class operator – Gordon Elliott.
Elliott decides who will ride Minella Indo, the current champion, and Blackmore is in the frame. Jack Kennedy may have ridden him historically, yet Elliott preferred the Irishwoman for the Champion Chase at Down Royal. Whichever nag she selects, both will give her an excellent chance at Gold Cup fame.
Even when she isn’t on the favourite, the 2021 Cheltenham Festival top jockey has rides that give her a shot at winning. The Arkle Chase is a prime example. Willie Mullins’ Appreciate It is an antepost heavy favourite with his odds already shortening to 5/2. Ferny Hollow is the next closest at 8/1.
Most jockeys would hope rather than believe they have a chance of finishing ahead of a horse that has only been beaten three times in its career. However, Bob Olinger, Blackmore’s mount, is a serious contender despite its 8/1 odds. Why? It’s because it has an impeccable hurdling record, and several experts believe it will transfer into chasing success.
Bob Olinger appears to be heading for Gowran Park if he’s fit, although the horse has had injury issues of late. Still, De Bromhead’s gelding will make his fences debut at some point. All going well, it will set up an incredible Arkle Chase with Blackmore aboard.
A Stroke of Luck
Recreating her previous Cheltenham Festival heroics isn’t possible without fortune on her side. Sport can be fickle, especially in horse racing where anything can happen. However, it seems as if Blackmore has the luck of the Irish after her escapades at a lesser Cheltenham meeting in November.
During a two-horse race, with her horse the clear second favourite, both fell at the penultimate fence. Miraculously, Blackmore managed to stay on Gin On Lime and went on to take an easy victory in the end. My Drogo unseated Dan Skelton, leaving the British jockey stranded as Blackmore cruised to the finish line.
Nothing’s stopping the same situation from going against Blackmore in March. Of course, when you’ve been on the right side of an incident such as this, you feel as if you can’t lose. Blackmore won’t be any different.
It’ll be tough, but Blackmore has the connections, skill and good fortune to seek more winners than in 2021. And if she doesn’t, she’ll be aiming to add the Gold Cup to her trophy cabinet, immortalising her as a Cheltenham great.