When it comes to female jockeys’ participation in elite events, racing has reached something of a strange juncture. We can point to the fact that more work needs to be done, but we can also see tangible progress in some cases. The most important factor, however, is that some women are simply excelling at the highest level of the sport. On the flat, we can cite Hollie Doyle, who had a record-breaking 2019 and 2020, finishing fourth in the Flat Jockey’s Championship last year. Doyle was later names The Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year for 2020.
In jumps racing, there are several names who pop up as trailblazers for female jockeys, including Bryony Frost, who became the first woman to win the King George VI Chase last month. But if we are to look ahead to the Cheltenham Festival (16-19th March), there is one woman who could truly blow the roof off in 2021 – Rachel Blackmore. The 31-year-old from Tipperary is no stranger to success at Cheltenham. And, if you look back at Cheltenham Festival results from previous years, you’ll see she has already had some big wins, notably in the Grade 1 Mares’ Hurdle (2020) and the Albert Bartlett (2019).
However, it seems that the stars have aligned for Blackmore leading up to 2021. She has enjoyed a fruitful partnership with trainer Henry de Bromhead, whose stable is shaping up for an excellent Festival. Paul Townend, who will ride the pick of Willie Mullins’ horses, is the favourite for the top jockey award, but Blackmore is not far behind her countryman, and nobody would be surprised if she pulled it off given her book for Cheltenham 2021. Below we look at some of her best chances:
The winner of the 2020 Mares’ Hurdle, Honeysuckle is 3/1 (co-favourite with Concertista) to give Blackmore and de Bromhead another Grade 1 victory in 2021. Honeysuckle has nine wins from nine starts in her career. The only question is whether de Bromhead decides to go for a bigger prize at Cheltenham, like the Champion Hurdle. The mare is booked for the Irish Champion Hurdle on 6th February, and that might have a big impact on his decision.
Minella Indo/A Plus Tard
At the time of writing, Minella Indo is the second-favourite for the most prestigious race at Cheltenham – the Gold Cup. The 8-year-old has shown plenty of class over the last couple of years, but there are question marks over whether he is good enough to do it in the toughest race of the Festival. A Plus Tard is just behind Minella Indo in the odds, and there is an assumption that Blackmore will opt for him over Minella Indo. Darragh O’Keefe was in the saddle when A Plus Tard beat the latter (Minella Indo fell) at Leopardstown.
A horse that has only really positioned himself as a Cheltenham chance in recent weeks, Blackmore rode Bob Olinger to a fine victory in the Grade 1 (Blackmore’s 11th) Lawlor’s of Naas Novice Hurdle in mid-January. Bob Olinger has now been placed as 5/1 second-favourite for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, just a fraction behind the Paul Nicholl’s-trained Bravemansgame in the betting odds.
Assuming that Honeysuckle avoids the Champion Hurdle, then Blackmore will likely ride 16/1 shot Aspire Tower. The horse certainly has the credentials to tempt punters in the each way markets, but questions over race favourite, Epatante, could open the door further. It would be considered a shock if Blackmore and Aspire Tower take the Champion Hurdle, but only a minor one.
Notebook flopped at the Festival last year when favourite for the Arkle. But there are still some who believe that the 8-year-old can turn things around. He is likely to have a tilt at the Champion Chase, where he is priced up at 22/1 in the ante-post markets. Notebook finished six lengths behind current Champion Chase favourite, Chacun Pour Soi, at Leopardstown over Christmas. Another each-way chance, but don’t be shocked if Blackmore can go one better.