IRISH jockey Rachael Blackmore is expected to be among the winners at this year's Cheltenham Festival – having already tasted success at the greatest show on earth.
But, it's amazing the 31-year-old trailblazer is even racing in the Champion Hurdle in the first place.
After all, the 2019 Centenary Novices' Handicap Chase winner riding on A Plus Tard didn't believe she'd be in horse racing full-time.
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In fact, she expected to become a vet – having not grown up, like many in the sport, in a racing family.
DAUGHTER OF A DAIRY FARMER
Rachael, from the small town of Killenaule in County Tipperary, is the daughter of a dairy farmer and a teacher.
Her younger sister is a law graduate, while her brother works as a graphic designer.
She wanted to become a vet, and initially got a degree in Equine Studies from the University of Limerick. Then, she went to Dublin and added a business diploma to her CV.
However, despite a love of horses Blackmore never believed she would be a professional jockey.
“I always wanted to be an amateur jockey and ride in races, but I never envisaged the professional jockey route," she told the Irish Times. "It was not a career I thought would work out for me.
“I grew up on a farm and always had ponies and did a lot of pony clubs, hunts and races, and had my first win at 13 at a pony race in Cork beating [fellow top jockey] Paul Townend."
A COMPETITIVE NATURE
As a baby, Rachael wasn't afraid of adventure.
Her mother Eimir recalled how she had trouble keeping her in a cot.
“She continuously climbed out of her cot even well before her first birthday. We knew she was going to have an adventurous disposition, to say the least. I had an awful job keeping her in the cot."
And then there was Rachael's competitive nature. When she learned how to ride and jump over obstacles, immediately she wanted to match what her older brother was doing.
"Charles [Eimir’s husband] taught her how to ride and negotiate obstacles, and at a very young age she wanted to jump everything Jonathan [Blackmore’s brother] jumped," Eimir revealed.
Rachael's big break came at the Tipperary Ladies’ Handicap Hurdle in Thurles in 2011.
Partnering with Stowaway Pearl, it was her first winner for trainer Shark Hanlon.
And it was Hanlon who urged Blackmore to go pro.
"He encouraged me to turn professional as he would have a lot more opportunities for me if I did," she told the Independent.
"So far it has been great, a very positive experience, and I am definitely not regretting my decision."
After taking on Hanlon's advice, she turned pro in March 2015. Six months later she rode her first winner.
BREAKING THE MOULD
A woman in a male-dominated business, Blackmore refuses to see herself as a pioneer in a sport where female jockeys including Bryony Frost and Katie Walsh have broken down the barriers.
“I fully get why it’s a thing outside the bubble because it is a male dominated sport," she told the Telegraph.
"But at the end of the day it’s the horses doing the running – we are just on their backs doing the steering. It would be a lot different if some female sprinter was beating Usain Bolt."
However, you can't ignore the success Blackmore has had in the saddle.
She rode her very first Cheltenham Festival winner in 2019, as well as gained her first Grade 1 race victory in Ireland that same year.
Blackmore will be hoping to repeat the magic of 2019 when she turns up in Gloucestershire for the greatest show on earth.
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