The names Walsh, Russell, Power & Townend are well established with Irish racegoers.
But as we approach the traditional Christmas smash-up of racing festivals, rising star Rachael Blackmore is about to become a lot more familiar to the casual racing fan.
Fresh from another winner at Thurles on Saturday, the 29-year-old from Co, Tipperary currently sits second in the Irish jump jockeys’ championship on 67 winners as we head into the Christmas break, just a couple of winners behind leader Paul Townend and eight ahead of Grand National winning jockey Davy Russell.
At the recent filming of Paddy’s Christmas Cracker, Paddy Power News caught up with the in-demand Blackmore to find out how it all started …
I grew up on a farm in Co Tipperary where we always had horses and ponies, so I would have ridden from a very young age.
At the age of about 13, I first got into pony racing and remember beating Paul Townend one day (now leading the Irish jump jockeys championship) and that was a real highlight for me. It gave me a real taste for race-riding.
So a couple of years later I started I started riding out for a local trainer when I was in transition year and race-riding became a natural progression from there.
It’s funny because when I was in school, I wanted to be a vet but I was nowhere near good enough academically to do that.
Conor O’Dwyer, Ruby Walsh and Paul Carberry were the main men back then, but I definitely would have looked at Nina Carberry and Katie Walsh and was inspired by what they were doing and what they were achieving.
They were well established when I was starting, so they were a big inspiration.
But I struggled as an amateur. It’s just so competitive in Ireland.
There’s only one ‘bumper’ per day during the winter months (a race reserved for amateur riders) and if you go point-to-pointing there’s trainers there who could potentially be selling their horses for €200k or €300k if they win, so they want the best around. The established jockeys.
People often ask if being a woman makes it more difficult, but I can honestly say there was none of that for me. If you’re good enough you’ll get your chance. 100 per cent.
Racing as a sport is a bit different in that you’re an amateur by name only. Nina and Katie were so good they never had to turn professional to get rides. You only have to look at the likes of Derek O’Connor now and and I’m sure Patrick Mullins could turn professional if he wanted to and was half a stone lighter.
But riding as an amateur was becoming frustrating for me.
So instead of struggling on, I decided to turn professional and things improved almost immediately.
My weight was very good which was a big help and I was able to claim (having not reached a quota of winners on the track) off the light weights. That definitely helped me to get rides and I won the conditional riders’ championship in 2017.
The yard I was with at the time, Joseph ‘Shark’ Hanlon, had an opportunity for me there. He had plenty of horses, so I really had nothing to lose.
I never thought I would make a living from race-racing to be honest and I’m extremely lucky to have the support of yards like Gordon Elliott, Henry de Bromhead and owners like Gigginstown House Stud now. And I’m very grateful for it.
You have to be on the best horse in the race and I’m the lucky person at the moment who is in that position.
I’m living the dream and hopefully it should be a busy Christmas.
I’ve a great agent in Gary Cribbin and every jockey needs someone like that in your corner. I generally ride out every morning, bar Sundays, for different trainers and then go racing in the afternoons.
So much can change in racing in the blink of an eye, so I don’t set myself targets. I just take every day as it comes, take every week as it comes.
If I’m in a Grade One race I want to ride the winner. It’s the same if I was riding in a handicap.
But that’s the same for everyone in the weigh-room. Anyone who fills in a form for a jockey’s licence is the exact same. We all want to be riding winners and if it’s the bigger races at the bigger meetings, that’s a bonus.
With a big week of jumps racing still to come at the Christmas Festivals, Blackmore has already bagged Horse Racing Ireland’s ‘National Hunt Achievement award’, describing it as “an absolute privilege, especially when you see the roll of honour of those who got it before me”.
If she continues to progress like she has this season – there’ll be plenty more awards on Blackmore’s mantlepiece.