Rachael Blackmore gives racing the feelgood story it needs with historic Cheltenham Festival winner

LET’S hear it for the girls…a Festival first so heart-warming and historic you’d swear you could hear the roars from across the Irish Sea.

Rachael Blackmore and Honeysuckle, the incredibles, the untouchables, and now the unbeatable Cheltenham champions to boot.

What a duo. What a team. What a race. You daren’t imagine the noise that would have rocked the rafters of this old place had it been crammed with 50,000 punters.

The thing with these feelgood stories, these good news events – and let’s face it, after the last couple of weeks, racing certainly needed one – is they so rarely come off.

There’s always something to spoil the party. Always something that ruins the best laid plans. Well yesterday there was never a hint of it.

Not from the second Blackmore pressed the button and Honeysuckle went for home entering the straight.

Not from the moment she put daylight between them and the rest approaching two out.

Henry De Bromhead’s wonder-mare had been backed like defeat was out of the question…it always was.

Such a performance, such an emotional victory, that while the number welcoming her back to was probably just short of three figures, it was still on a different scale to anything else we saw yesterday.

There were more than a few cheers and – Heavens above – even a few hard-bitten hacks and officials blinking back tears as she slid from the saddle.

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Blackmore isn’t a girl who does loud. Not for her soundbites and shouting. She prefers to stay in the background and let her horses do the talking.

Well Honeysuckle didn’t so much speak as scream it from the rooftops…she’s the best by a mile. Well, six-and-a-half lengths, anyway, although in truth it could have been even more.

A performance so dominant that trainer Henry De Bromhead even admitted he had rarely been so relaxed watching any of his horses run here in the past.

For Rachael, though, there were mixed feelings. Both of them good, of course…a combination of disbelief, utter relief – and sheer, unbridled joy.

She tried to sum up her feelings but after a couple of sentences had to stop, take a breath, rub her face, and admit: “It’s unbelievable, I’m speechless.

“I can’t believe I have won a Champion Hurdle. I wish I had something more, but I really can’t believe it. Henry produces her every day and I steer them round. This is such a special race, I’m just so thankful to be part of her.

“She is unbeaten and she is getting better, Her run last time was a career best – until today.

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“This to me was never even a dream. It was so far from it I thought it couldn’t happen in my life, to be at Cheltenham riding the winner of the Champion Hurdle. It was so far off.

“It’s just phenomenal, she’s incredible and it is all about her.”

That was just about the only wrong move from Blackmore all day…it wasn’t all about Honeysuckle. It was about her history-making rider as well.

The biggest success a female jumps jockey had ever achieved, more momentous even than Bryony Frost’s memorable King George triumph on Frodon in December.

Not that Rachael was making anything of that. She has long since proved on a par with anyone in the saddle, and will push Paul Townend – backed by the mighty Willie Mullins’ army – closest in the Irish title race.

She was more concerned about it proving that it is good to dream. After all, the 30-year-old from the little Tipperary town of Killenaule did plenty of it herself as a kid.

Back in the day she would try to imagine what it would be like to ride at jump racing’s mecca, but thought the closest she’d get to this day was a school outing to Aidan O’Brien’s yard.

The stand-out of that visit was a chance to see Istabraq, the three-time Champion Hurdler and one of the all-time great.

She revealed: “It was a school tour because it was local, but I never for one day envisaged I would be riding the winner.

“When you become a jockey you dream of riding winners like this. There’s no deal about a male or female jockey…drive on.

“To young people out there, male, female or whatever, it you want to do something, go and do it.

“Maybe there is a lesson in there for everyone…to me, standing here, literally anything can happen.”

Maybe so, and of course you need the equine ability to go with a riding one. But there is no doubt Blackmore and Honeysuckle are a dream team.

As trainer De Bromhead insisted: “They are such a great team the pair of them. Rachael’s a brilliant rider and Honeysuckle is a brilliant horse…it’s the perfect storm.”

It certainly is…just about the perfect day, however strange the circumstances are this year.

 

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