Rachael Blackmore becomes the first woman to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup

After a historic 2021, which saw Rachael Blackmore become the first woman to win the Grand National, the Irish jockey has done it again, this time winning the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup.

But despite her praise for leaving her mark on the male-dominated sport, she said she doesn’t consider herself a “star”, admitting that it’s the horses that do all the racing.

Although Rachael’s professional success may seem somewhat inevitable, after all, as a little child she played on a rocking horse before getting her first pony at age seven, Rachael had different career goals when she was growing.

The 32-year-old dairy farmer’s daughter from Tipperary originally dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. Despite this, while studying equine science at the University of Limerick, she continued to compete at amateur level.

Indeed, she was so enthusiastic about riding that she even missed her graduation ceremony, opting to race instead.

Rachael Blackmore celebrates on her horse A Later after winning the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase

The jockey, who won the BBC Sports Personality World Sport Star of the Year award for 2021, poses on the red carpet with her <a class=statuette” class=”blkBorder img-share” style=”max-width:100%” />

The jockey, who won the BBC Sports Personality World Sport Star of the Year award for 2021, poses on the red carpet with her statuette

Indeed, she says, once she started riding better horses and training more, she started to improve.

And so despite the auspicious amateur career, the jockey has found herself picking up accolades in recent years.

One of three children, she did not grow up in a racing family like many other jockeys, but on her father Charles’ dairy farm at Killenaule in County Tipperary.

While studying equine science at the University of Limerick, Rachael (pictured) continued to compete at amateur level

While studying equine science at the University of Limerick, Rachael (pictured) continued to compete at amateur level

His mother Eimir is a teacher; his younger sister would become a lawyer and his older brother a graphic designer. Rachael, however, always seemed destined to push the envelope.

“She continually got out of bed long before her first birthday. We knew she was going to have an adventurous temper, to say the least,” her mother recalled one day. “And we knew she was competitive – Charles taught her how to climb and negotiate obstacles, and at a very young age she wanted to jump everything Jonathan [her brother] jumped up.’

Although she only turned pro in 2015, Rachael has always loved horse riding and had ponies as a child.

Although she only turned pro in 2015, Rachael has always loved horse riding and had ponies as a child.

With her first pony, Bubbles, igniting a passion for racing and speed, Rachael was quick to make a name for herself at the Tipperary Pony Club.

Competitive, fearless and talented, she was described as “the best boy in the team”, remembers her mother Eimir.

Although crazy about horses, Rachael actually wanted to be a veterinarian when she was growing up: “I wanted to ride horses but I didn’t see being a jockey as a career, I always wanted to race and compete but it was always an amateur .

Aged 13, she was thrilled to win a pony race in Cork in 2004, beating a young rider named Paul Townend, who six years later would win the Irish Champion Jump Jockey title while continuing to ride in amateur ranks.

She never imagined that, 17 years later, in March 2021, she would beat her former opponent again, naming him best jockey at the Cheltenham Festival with six winners, making history again as the first rider to do it.

When Rachael first went to Cheltenham, aged 16, it wasn’t to race, but for the chance to wear ‘nice clothes’ and enjoy the festival as a racing fan .

“I certainly wouldn’t have been there to ride at Cheltenham at this point,” she said. “I didn’t think at that time that I could dream of winning there, so things went beyond what I could dream of.”

His parents felt the same. “I encouraged her to go to college because I didn’t think for a minute that she would be able to make it her full-time career,” her mother said. ‘Show what I know.’

While studying equine science at the University of Limerick, Rachael continued to compete as an amateur and remained so passionate about racing that she missed her graduation ceremony, leaving the chimney of her parents “devoid” of photographs.

But they’ve had a lot to celebrate since then; photographs and trophies galore since Rachael won her first title on Stowaway Pearl in February 2011.

Then in 2015, after what she describes as an “average” amateur career, Rachael decided to become a professional jockey. A move she admits could be considered unexpected, but one she did to give herself the opportunity to ride better horses.

“The best horses win the race. If you’re lucky enough as a jockey to ride those horses, that’s half the battle,” she told the Irish Times.

“A few people were like, ‘I don’t know if you’re doing the right thing’ because it’s strange that someone who was extremely average as an amateur is going to be a professional. It’s not the usual course to take. I guess when a few people were negative, it made me want to prove them wrong.

“It wasn’t a woman thing. I just needed practice. That’s exactly what I got when I turned pro. Right away, I had more rides. It allowed me to improve.

“When I turned professional, I wasn’t full of confidence. I had nothing to lose but I was on tiptoe.

Weighing just nine stone, Rachael has never had to worry about her weight, unlike some male jockeys, including her boyfriend Brian Hayes and their roommate, fellow jockey Patrick Mullins.

But she works hard to build physical strength, and on a typical day she goes out in the morning, runs errands in the afternoon, and also hits the gym to condition and strengthen.

She’s also not worried about falling, unaware of the injuries she’s suffered over the course of her career like “just a broken nose, collarbone and wrist – not much”.

“I don’t think about injuries. If you start thinking about what could go wrong, this isn’t the job for you,” she said.

Rachael Blackmore riding A Later in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase 2022, which the pair won

Rachael Blackmore riding A Later in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase 2022, which the pair won

Modest, tough, steely, hard-working and popular with her fellow jockeys, Rachael resists the idea that she is in any way a “star”. ‘What is a star?’ she asked on the first day of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival. “To me, Beyoncé is a star.”

His mother Eimir agrees, recently saying, “He’s just a jockey. It’s just his job. However, she added: ‘We’ve had some wonderful letters from little girls saying, ‘I want to be like you’, and that sort of thing. And it’s wonderful.

Speaking about her Cheltenham Gold Cup win after the hard-fought race, she told ITV Racing she felt “lucky to be able to ride all these types of horses”.

She added: “I had so many special days. I wouldn’t trade the Grand National for anything but it’s the Gold Cup. I wish I had something better to say now. I can not.

The jockey, pictured here riding in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase 2022, says she finds the focus on her gender

The jockey, pictured here riding in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase 2022, says she finds the focus on her gender ‘tiring’, admitting horses are the talent

You have all these plans for how things are going to work. Racing doesn’t allow this to happen all the time and for some reason it happened to me today. I just can’t explain how lucky I feel.

Rachael has also picked up accolades outside of the race course, winning BBC Sports Personality’s World Sport Star of the Year for 2021, thanks in large part to her record wins.

However, she doesn’t like to focus too much on gender.

After becoming the first female jockey to win the Grand National in the race’s 182-year history last year – some 44 years after Charlotte Brew became the first woman to compete – Rachael said she would rather be seen as a jockey than a trailblazer, regardless of gender.

The rider, pictured at the 2021 Grand National Handicap Chase, which she won, says she doesn't consider herself a star

The rider, pictured at the 2021 Grand National Handicap Chase, which she won, says she doesn’t consider herself a star

Pictured here celebrating her victory at the 2020 PCI Irish Champion Hurdle, Rachael says after people wondered if turning professional was

Pictured here celebrating her win at the 2020 PCI Irish Champion Hurdle, Rachael says after people wondered if turning professional was ‘the right thing’, she wanted to prove them wrong

“I probably find it a bit boring in the little racing bubble because I don’t think it should be a thing anymore,” she said.

“I totally understand why it’s a thing outside the bubble because it’s a male dominated sport.

“But at the end of the day, it’s the horses that run – we’re just on the backs to lead.” It would be very different if a sprinter beat Usain Bolt.

The rider also explained that she does not consider herself a “star”.

‘What is a star?’ she asked on the first day of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival. “To me, Beyoncé is a star.”

His mother Eimir agrees, recently saying, “He’s just a jockey. It’s just his job.

But, she added, “We got some wonderful letters from little girls saying, ‘I want to be like you,’ and that sort of thing. And it’s wonderful.

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