The first jumps meeting of the season at Fairyhouse, usually in early October, is generally when the racing radar in this seat really becomes hyper sensitive. That isn’t to say one wouldn’t be attuned to goings on prior to that date. Just that the fixture in question is generally the cue for things to ratchet up several notches.
My first frequenting of the fixture will never be forgotten. The occasion of my meeting with Noel Meade has oft been recalled over the years. In the aftermath of same, though, the Castletown man’s horses went through a very lean period. To the extent that, on my way into the October fixture, the master of Tu Va said to me “Don’t mind any of mine, but ‘Paul’s sister’ is riding one in the bumper” before leaving me with a smile.
‘Miss N. Carberry (5)’ duly sleuced home on the Ger Lyons-trained Echo Point. It was probably the last time a horse ridden by Nina went off in a race at 12/1! Though my punting back then was a lot more clueless and cumbersome but from the off those writing out my bets knew “Nina in the Bumper” would be the final declaration!
Time nor tide waits for no man or woman or child or creature, so when the curtain came down for both Nina and her sister-in-law Katie Walsh to take leave of centre stage, huge chasms were left requiring filling. No, not only my finances, but also in terms of role models for young ladies seeking to get into racing.
Mind you, if there was a void after Mrs Walsh and Mrs O’Sullivan bowed out, it wasn’t long about being filled. ‘Babs’ Keating, Declan Browne, Shane Long and Colin O’Riordan now have company in ranking among the greatest sporting stars Tipperary has produced.
Rachael Blackmore didn’t so much break the mould as cast her own. Even before her incomparable achievements in the sport which she has illuminated in recent seasons, this most excellent sportsperson had marched to the beat of her own drum by turning professional.
In a world where equality is still more sought after than seen, horse racing can be rightly proud of the fact that it not only operates on a level playing field but has actually been pioneering in promoting both opportunities for and the undoubted talents of their female participants. A long time ago now, commentators and the media within the sport removed the word ‘female’ from discourse when describing Nina and Katie and Rachael as brilliant jockeys. Furthermore, it’s always a fairly good indication that a person has made it in their chosen area of expertise when mention of their first name is enough to guarantee instant recognition. To that end, Rachael now commands similar status as Nina and Katie and Bryony (Frost). Except she has, with the greatest of respect to the other gifted sports people mentioned above, she has surpassed them all.
When Fallon Sherrock became the first lady to win a game in the World Darts Championship in 2019, during commentary, Rod Studd spoke of the pink-clad arrowsmith “Smashing the glass ceiling”. That she undoubtedly did, but, using those metrics, Henry De Bromhead’s retained rider has shattered everything in the glasshouse altogether. From initially going professional, to contending or the Irish Jockeys Championship, she has taken things to a whole new level. Or, if it was felt she had before March, what she has achieved thereafter has guaranteed her rightful place in the annals of sporting history.
In one way, that she emerged as Leading Rider at the Cheltenham Festival shouldn’t be that big of a deal given the quality of mounts at her disposal. But, there are plenty of things which look simple on paper but never turn out as such. Rachael though has done it again and again ever since exploding onto the scene in 2015.
There are those who would declare Aintree a fixture of lesser importance than Cheltenham. Perhaps with some justification. However, it’s surely the case that the Grand National is the most recognisable race in the world. It feels like a long time ago now since Jenny Pitman became tthe first woman to train the winner of the big one, but few if any could’ve predicted it would’ve taken so long for a lady jockey to do likewise.
Nina and Katie made valiant attempts during their celebrated careers – the latter finishing third aboard Seabass trained by father Ted – but if one was even remotely predisposed to superstition, surely this year the chances of it happening this term were heightened given Blackmore’s brilliance.
STICK A PIN IN THE PAPER
That’s the thing about the Grand National, though, the only thing predictable about it is its unpredictability. One need only recall favourite Clan Royal being carried out at the Canal Turn or Esha Ness winning the race that never was or Tony Dobbin emerging victorious on a Monday evening. From a punting perspective, policy can be as simple as sticking a pin in the paper and wagering on whatever steed it lands on. Especially for those for whom the National represents the only bet placed for the entire year.
Tony McCoy taking so long to get over the line wouldn’t exactly have been foreseen either. Yet, for once, perhaps it was written in the stars that the Kilenaule woman would smash another ceiling as she has now taken on the baton as heroine and role model for the stars of tomorrow.
She has proven anything is possible because she has already done all there is to do. And you can be sure this story still has many chapters still to be written!