By Toby Foster (@TobyFost)
Rachael Blackmore became the first female rider ever to win the Grand National as Minella Times swept to a decisive victory at Aintree.
Having been crowned leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival in March, Blackmore continued her remarkable season with this stunning success in one of the world’s most famous races.
Minella Times, trained in Ireland by Henry de Bromhead and owned by JP McManus, travelled prominently throughout the contest and took the lead when approaching the penultimate fence, before staying on strongly to win by 6 ½ lengths ahead of 100-1 chance Balko Des Flos.
Blackmore, 31, sung the praises of her mount in a post-race interview, saying: “Minella Times was unbelievable, he jumped fantastically. I don’t think he missed a beat anywhere.”
The Irish rider described her history-making success as “a massive deal for me personally”.
However, the race was marred by an equine fatality, as The Long Mile was euthanised after suffering an injury while running on the track between fences.
Minella Times powers to special success in eventful National
Sent off the 11-1 third-favourite to win the Grand National, Minella Times raced near the head of affairs under Blackmore from the get-go, with favourite Cloth Cap and well-backed Burrows Saint also prominent.
Lake View Lad was the sole faller at the first obstacle, while last year’s runner-up Magic of Light unseated her rider Robbie Power at the fourth fence.
Irish outsider Jett was quickly sent into a commanding lead by his rider Sam Waley-Cohen, and played a game of ‘catch me if you can’ with the rest of the field having exuberantly built an advantage of up to ten lengths on his nearest pursuers.
Cloth Cap appeared well in contention for most of the contest but was pulled up after jumping the fourth-last.
Crossing the Melling Road for the final time, Jett remained in front by a few lengths but began to tire on the approach to the home straight, allowing Minella Times, Burrows Saint and Balko Des Flos to draw level, with Discorama, Any Second Now and Blaklion all still in close attendance.
Minella Times jumped into a decisive lead at the final fence and saw off the challenge of Balko Des Flos up the run-in to win in imposing fashion by a 6 ½ length margin.
Any Second Now stayed on well to finish third having been badly hampered earlier in the race. Burrows Saint and Farclas rounded out the first five, with sixth-placed Blaklion the first British-trained runner to cross the line.
In all, ten of the first 11 finishers were from Ireland, continuing the country’s domination of this National Hunt racing season after Irish trainers scored a 23-5 success over their British counterparts in the races at the Cheltenham Festival.
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) April 10, 2021
“It is a big deal” – Rachael’s delight at unprecedented success
Only 19 female jockeys have ever competed in the Grand National, with Katie Walsh’s third-place finish on Seabass in 2012 being the closest a lady rider had come to winning the Aintree showpiece.
But Rachael Blackmore, four weeks on from her dominant performances at Cheltenham, has broken new ground again with this awe-inspiring Aintree success.
“I just can’t believe we’ve won”, Blackmore said.
“It’s a massive deal for me personally. It’s not something that hit me when I crossed the line.
“It is a big deal. I don’t know how to put that big deal into words myself, but I’m just delighted to have won the Aintree Grand National.”
As a little girl I sat on my pony and pretended to be APMcCoy. Little girls now can pretend to be Rachael Blackmore. Thankyou Rachael from my 10 year old self. #GrandNational2021 @rachaelblackmor #allhailrachael pic.twitter.com/2zw3GmdZCY
— Liz Kelly (@LizDKelly) April 10, 2021
Fresh calls for change after The Long Mile dies
The Grand National suffered its second equine fatality in as many runnings when The Long Mile was euthanised after becoming injured when running on the flat track between fences.
Trained by Philip Dempsey and owned by JP McManus, The Long Mile was the youngest horse in the race at seven years old and had won four times in his career.
The tragedy, which followed the death of Houx Gris in an earlier race at this year’s Aintree Festival, prompted appeals for change from animal welfare charities.
Writing on Twitter, the RSPCA said that “the death of any horse is always one too many and it’s crucial steps are urgently taken to reduce the risk of these tragedies”.
Animal Aid director Iain Green called for “this repulsive spectacle to be banned”.
Elsewhere, jockey Bryony Frost was taken to hospital after being unseated by the Paul Nicholls trained Yala Enki on the second circuit of the race.
Harry Derham, assistant trainer to Nicholls, confirmed that Frost has since been released from hospital, along with fellow jockey Harry Cobden who suffered a nasty fall in an earlier race.
Posting a picture of herself with a black eye on Instagram, Frost thanked members of the public for kind messages and added: “My aim is to be back racing the middle of next week. I must pass a concussion test to be passed fit to ride.”
By Toby Foster
As exceptionally brilliant as it was, Rachael Blackmore’s barrier-breaking Grand National win will not have come as a shock to many in the racing world.
Blackmore’s domination at the Cheltenham Festival set the stage for this history-making triumph aboard Minella Times.
Her ascension to the group of highest-rated jockeys has been a huge success story for racing – one of the only major sports where men and women compete against each other.
The Grand National itself unfolded in unusual style, as Sam Waley-Cohen sent his enthusiastic mount Jett into a hare-like lead over the rest of the field.
With four fences to jump, Jett still maintained a commanding advantage which had some punters thinking the 80/1 shot might have been about to go all the way.
But Rachel Blackmore judged the race perfectly on Minella Times, who cruised into contention around the home turn and smartly outstayed his rivals.
The Irish domination of the sport, having already been on display at Cheltenham, was in full evidence at Aintree too, with Blaklion the only British horse in the first eleven home.
It will be food for thought for British trainers and authorities as they seek to provide stiffer opposition to Irish runners.
The death of The Long Mile was a tragedy which has raised further criticisms of the dangers of the National and its place in the modern world.
Safety modifications to the National course were made in 2012 and no fatalities occurred from 2013 to 2018 in the race.
But the loss of The Long Mile and Up For Review in the race’s previous two renewals will rightly elicit further questions about what more can be done to ensure the safety of all horses participating.
Full Finishing Order: 1st: Minella Times, 2nd: Balko Des Flos, 3rd: Any Second Now, 4th: Burrows Saint, 5th: Farclas, 6th: Blaklion, 7th: Discorama, 8th: Jett, 9th: Cabaret Queen, 10th: Shattered Love, 11th: Alpha Des Obeaux, 12th: Hogan’s Height, 13th: Acapella Bourgeois, 14th: Sub Lieutenant, 15th: Class Conti.
— Jamie Snowden (@jamiesnowden) April 10, 2021