There were tremendous scenes after the Grand National this year, though most of us had to witness them from home. Rachael Blackmore rode Minella Times to victory thus becoming the first lady rider to win the historic race. Asked how it felt, she told ITV Racing, ‘I don’t feel male or female right now – I don’t even feel human, this is just unbelievable!’ It wasn’t that unbelievable though given her incredible record at Cheltenham this year and the faith put in her abilities by winning trainer Henry de Bromhead and owner J P McManus. Her mount was returned a respected 11/1 by the bookies for good reason, she’s a better rider than the majority of men.
Make no mistake, it’s still a huge achievement and been a long time coming. The Grand National has a rich history, first run in 1839, but it wasn’t until 1977 that Charlotte Brew on Barony Fort became the first lady to ride in the race. The combination made it to the 27th fence where her mount refused. Five years later in 1982 Geraldine Rees was the first to complete the course, aboard her mount Cheers. In 2012 Katie Walsh was the first female jockey to finish in the money when third on Seabass though Rosemary Henderson and Carrie Ford had both came close when fifth in 1994 and 2005 respectively.
Rachael Blackmore’s win this year was a welcome boost to racing. The industry lost its annual Aintree shop window to Covid-19 in 2020 and has continued behind closed doors since June. The hope of a Red Rum-equalling third win in the National by Tiger Roll, which could have been a huge story, was dashed when connections decided not to run the gelding after weights were published. Rachael’s victory easily made up for that loss and some, in doing so thrusted racing back into the mainstream news and for all the right reasons.
Bookmaker reaction to Minella Times’ victory was generally guarded. That probably meant that they did better than expected given the odds of the winner. The Grand National is the race where the once-a-year punters descend on betting shops to have their bets. This year they were all closed. Those closures almost certainly saved the bookies a nice few quid. Whilst annual punters bolster up the courage to enter a high street shop, it’s unlikely that they’d open on-line accounts in such numbers specially to do so. Those punters would have been arguably most likely to latch on to a lady jockey when having their two quid each way, their non-participation a silver lining for high street bookies after all.
As a footnote, what would have rankled a few in racing was 100/1 runner-up Balko Des Flos, also trained by Henry de Bromhead, owned by The Racehorse Club. The club that offers ‘micro-shares’ in their horses came under scrutiny from some quarters of the media recently, suggesting poor value. It would be interesting to hear how many that spent £80 for their micro-ownership of Balko Des Flos felt ripped off on Saturday, a share in a Grand National runner-up? Hard to put a price on that thrill I’d imagine.