AFASCINATING week in the life of Rachael Blackmore. Where to begin? Where will it finish?
The Irish Times Sportswoman of the Year. The RTÉ Sportsperson of the Year and, to round it off nicely, the achievement of being named BBC World Sports Star Of The Year.
An unlikely award, you would have thought, for someone in racing. As with so many things in the past, she has rewritten the rule for that too.
Where is the line between fiction and reality drawn? A household name and as nice a person as you could meet. Her quote after winning the Grand National on Minella Times –“I don’t feel male or female right now, I don’t even feel human” – would explain a lot.
I’m lucky enough to know Rachael quite a while and I’d like to share one experience where I saw the first glimpse of her incredible ways.
I had won a nice few races on a horse named Universal Truth for Dermot Weld and Dr Lambe. He was starting to lose his form and was going to be sold. Having had such a good relationship with the horse, I asked Mr. Weld if I could take him for hunter chasing. He kindly agreed and he came home to Dad’s in Limerick.
We looked for an open lightweight for him. There was a ladies open in Nenagh, a nice start, so we aimed for there. I asked Rachael if she’d like to ride him. She agreed and we organised a schooling session a couple of days prior to the race.
I met her at Jim Culloty’s in Cork. Six fences in a row over about two and a half furlongs. A nice, sound Polytrack surface. There was a lovely flow to schooling over it. Rachael’s flow was more of a whitewater rapid.
The horse was by Galileo, so he wasn’t slow, and I can safely say it was the fastest he ever went. It was full-throttle and not for the faint-hearted. She pulled up, turned at the top, cantered back down to us and with her usual smile and calmness said “Ahhh, he’s class.” He’d want to be, I laughed to myself, or ye’d be a permanent part of Jim Culloty’s schooling ground.
Whether it was brilliant riding, or a bit extreme or something in between, it was exhilarating to watch. Don’t get me wrong, not for a second did I see what was on the horizon for her, but you couldn’t help but be impressed. I often thought about those 30-odd seconds, even years after, a little more blood returning to my face each time I thought about it.
I have followed every step of her journey since, which has been jaw-dropping. I’ll be perfectly honest however, I didn’t think we’d see another Nina.
Nina was a brilliant rider and had a will to win that would frighten you. She was class to ride against. I was a rival of hers but at the same time one of her biggest fans. When the word competitor came to mind, there weren’t many better.
Somehow, Rachael has stepped up to the mark. Taking things to another level, another couple of levels, and her consistency at those levels is astonishing.
I remember her winning the conditional riders’ title and Ruby gave her the award. He made a speech about her and it was very rare to hear him speak so highly of someone.
From there, things just got better. The de Bromhead association, the Gigginstown connection, first Grade 1 and first Cheltenham winner, Honeysuckle, the week of six Cheltenham winners and the cream on top, the Grand National in the green and gold.
It’s like a comic book from your childhood about your favourite heroine. Whatever name you’d give her or whatever costume you’d design for her in the comic book, it’d do very well to come close to the story that’s being played out in real life.