RACHAEL Blackmore booted home her first Cheltenham Festival winner as A Plus Tard streaked clear in the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase.
The 29-year-old is enjoying a fantastic season in Ireland, with her current tally of 84 winners seeing her sitting second in the race to be crowned champion jockey behind Paul Townend. She is the 15th female jockey ride a Cheltenham Festival winner.
Carrying the famous colours of Cheveley Park Stud, Blackmore appeared to have strong claims of breaking her Festival duck aboard the Henry de Bromhead-trained A Plus Tard, who beat Arkle winner Duc Des Genievres on his penultimate start and was sent on his way at 5/1 for his handicap debut.
His supporters will have had few concerns for the duration of the two-and-a-half-mile contest, as Blackmore’s mount fenced fluently on the heels of the leaders before moving ominously to the lead racing down the hill.
Once given his head, A Plus Tard shot clear between the final two fences and winged the last to seal a 16-length success.
Joseph O’Brien’s Tower Bridge was second, with Gordon Elliott’s Ben Dundee rounding off an Irish one-two-three.
Blackmore said: "He has won incredibly well. When Duc Des Genievres won the Arkle, that was franking my form [A Plus Tard beat Duc Des Genievres by three and a quarter lengths in a beginners' chase at Naas in December], but I never thought I would be coming up that hill like that. It's unbelievable. The race went perfectly.
"Henry de Bromhead has put a lot of faith in me this week, considering I had never ridden a Festival winner; he's put me up on a lot of them, including in Grade 1s, and I'm very grateful to him. It's phenomenal. He's been extremely good to me all year and this is a very nice horse for the future.
"Cheltenham has its own kind of atmosphere and pressure attached to it but Henry left it up to me and gave me very easy instructions. He was going to be able to blame me if it didn't go right! To be honest, I was never winning with that margin in my mind. It's fantastic to get a winner here - it's what every jockey dreams about and I'm just so grateful to get to ride a horse like him and just steer him up the hill."
De Bromhead said: “That was fantastic. I’m really thrilled. It was a super ride from Rachael and that was her first Festival winner. I’m never brimming with confidence, but I’m delighted to get it for the Thompsons and Cheveley Park.
“We hoped he was better than his mark suggested. He looked tapped for toe at Punchestown the last day over two and a half. He seemed to get a fair mark so we said we would give it a go.
“I’m delighted for Rachael and I’m lucky to be associated with her. She is just a brilliant rider.
“I’m always nervous, but it is great to get a winner. I feel a bit better now than I did before the race. It would look like he would get three miles and in fairness that is what I thought after Punchestown.
“It was a case of this race if he got in or the RSA, but he got into this so we went this way and it has worked out.”
Joseph O'Brien, who trains runner-up Tower Bridge, said: "He ran well. He made one mistake, but it was his first run in a handicap so he was entitled to do that, and he galloped up to the line. He hasn't won yet over fences and so it probably makes sense at this stage of the season to keep him a novice. He could have a nice race in him next season. He's a good, fun horse."