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Rachael playing it cool after Down Royal victory

Blackmore says she isn't thinking of making Irish jump jockey title history


Towering success: Rachael Blackmore steers Aspire Tower to victory in the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal

Towering success: Rachael Blackmore steers Aspire Tower to victory in the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal

Farouk D’Alene ridden by Jack Kennedy goes on to win the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden Hurdle

Farouk D’Alene ridden by Jack Kennedy goes on to win the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden Hurdle


Towering success: Rachael Blackmore steers Aspire Tower to victory in the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal

Rachael Blackmore refused to be spooked at Halloween by any comparisons to the great AP McCoy following her victory aboard Aspire Tower in the Down Royal Festival's opening day feature, the big-money WKD Hurdle.

McCoy famously won the race - which was worth €60,000 yesterday - on the high-class Jezki in 2013, just six days before reaching the historic 4,000 winner landmark.

The humble Blackmore is a trailblazer in her own right, finishing second and third in the Irish jump jockeys title race in the last two seasons, Paul Townend - from the powerful Willie Mullins stable - eventually emerging victorious in both.

Blackmore leads the way this season on 44 winners - and with prize money of over €500,000 - but refused to be drawn on talk of her becoming the first woman to take the coveted crown, which is handed over in April and was held in the past by legends of the turf like Ruby Walsh, who was at Down Royal yesterday in his role as a television pundit and tipped Chris's Dream for today's Festival feature, the €140,000 Ladbrokes Champion Chase which is going out live on ITV.

"Ah sure it's only November," said Blackmore before correcting herself. "Actually it's not even November! So it's way too early for talk of the title."

The 31-year-old from Tipperary rode 3/1 shot Aspire Tower - trained by Henry de Bromhead and immediately cut from 50/1 to 14/1 for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March - to victory ahead of 8/15 favourite Abacadabras, ridden by Jack Kennedy and trained by Gordon Elliott, who bagged a treble thanks to victories by Farouk D'Alene (2/9), the classy Envoi Allen (1/14) and Chemical Energy (10/11) in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden Hurdle, the Advanced NI Scaffolding Beginners Chase and the Rainbow Communications Flat Race respectively.

Kennedy secured a double on Farouk D'Alene and Envoi Allen.

Coleraine jockey Jody McGarvey had a stunning 66/1 success in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Novice Hurdle for trainer John 'Shark' Hanlon, while the Lough Construction Handicap Hurdle went to Ragin Cajun (9/1) and the Ladbrokes Handicap Chase to Bridge Native (5/1 favourite).

The Down Royal Festival is usually one of the highlights of the Northern Ireland social calendar but is taking place behind closed doors because of the Covid restrictions.

It was a very different scene yesterday to what we have come to expect from the big winter Festival, with the clink of champagne flutes replaced by background music on the tannoy. But no matter - Blackmore was delighted to have hit the high notes in the feature, crowd or no crowd.

"It's just great to be racing. Yes, of course it would be great to have the crowds back, but following the guidelines is the only way forward," she said.

"Riding a horse is no different, with or without a crowd. The things you notice are the many protocols, like wearing a mask no matter where you are on the course and getting your temperature taken on the way in."

Blackmore dismissed talk of her flying the flag for women's sport in general and for female jockeys in particular.

"You just want to ride winners, that's what this is all about. Aspire Tower produced a great performance, Henry (de Bromhead) had the horse in great shape. It made the job easy," she added.

If Blackmore was to lift the Irish jump jockeys title it would go down as one of the great sporting feats and propel her to the forefront of the public consciousness. But for now she gives the impression of enjoying the relative anonymity that the tough world of jump racing offers bar the very rare occasion when one of their number - like McCoy - transcends the sport.

Is there a case for admitting a small number of punters to big meetings like the Down Royal Festival, especially given that the size of the venue lends itself to social distancing?

Ruby Walsh is renowned for his forthright opinions and retirement hasn't changed that.

He said: "Punters simply cannot be allowed in at the moment. You have to look at the bigger picture. This is about protecting the horseracing industry so the protocols must stay in place for the time being. It would be great to have crowds back but at least racing is going ahead. Most other sports are behind closed doors and that's the way it has to be."

Then with a smile, the man who twice rode the great Kauto Star to victory in the Champion Chase at the Down Royal Festival along with successes aboard Taranis and Valseur Lido, added: "I really fancy Chris's Dream in the big race by the way."

That would make it a cracker of a Festival for De Bromhead, who trains Chris's Dream.

Blackmore is on the other De Bromhead horse in the big race, Balko Des Flos. Just saying.

Belfast Telegraph