• Fri. May 20th, 2022

Rachael Blackmore and Honeysuckle: Inside story behind Cheltenham Festival’s top jockey

ByRandall B. Phelps

Mar 15, 2022

Rachael Blackmore was the first woman to win the award for best jockey at the Cheltenham Festival. Here, industry stalwarts, including ITV Racing’s Oli Bell, take a look at his talent.

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Cheltenham Festival 2022: everything you need to know

Two years after her first victory at the Cheltenham Festival on A Plus Tard, Rachael Blackmore has won the award for the best jockey of the meeting in 2021.

The six-person haul included a Champion Hurdle Triumph aboard Honeysuckle.

Blackmore says his success – and that includes Randox Grand National glory aboard Minella Times last April – is down to being “very lucky”.

But there is more than that. So what makes it so good? We talk to experts and people close to Blackmore to find out.

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Rachael Blackmore, who graduated with a degree in equine science from the University of Limerick, pictured wearing Boodles jewelry, the new Gold Cup sponsor
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Picture:

The Jockey Club)


SHARK HANLON – Trainer and mentor

Rachael was the best worker I have ever let into my garden. It didn’t matter if it was 6 a.m. or 6 p.m., whatever you wanted her to do, she would be there, and she would do it.

No one will ever beat her. She was in college when she worked for me and I’m sure there were also Saturdays and Sundays when she milked cows for her father.

When she started riding point-to-point, she was on the wrong horses – she had two stones of dead weight in her saddle – and she was frustrated after taking terrible falls.

I told her to turn professional – there was the ability to ride better horses, she could jump over hurdles and she could ride at lower weights, with less of a lead, in the handicaps. I received text messages and emails from people who told me I was angry. They have become silent now!

She reads a race very well and there is no jockey in Ireland who jumps a horse like she does.

OLI BELL – ITV Race Expert

What amazes me about Rachael is the contrast between the ruthless and relentless winning machine on the track, versus the shy, quiet and unassuming person off the track.

While someone like Frankie Dettori has to be told to stop talking in interviews, it’s sometimes hard to convince Rachael of the magnitude of her accomplishments.

But in many ways this is her greatest strength, she needs no over-hyping or hyperbole, as her record-breaking and inspiring achievements speak for themselves.

She is also a phenomenal role model and when aspiring runners meet her, it is very clear to see the impact Rachael is having on the sport and the next generation.







Henry de Bromhead (left) and Rachael Blackmore (right) with Honeysuckle, winner of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival, who won the Champion Hurdle by six and a half lengths.
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Picture:

PENNSYLVANIA)


RICHARD JOHNSON – former champion jockey

I would be surprised if you could find anyone in the weigh room who had a bad word to say about her.

At the same time, she’s tough to beat in a race and she won’t give you an inch – tough is the best word to describe her.

Obviously she rides very good horses now – it’s easier to win races with good animals – but I remember she came to places like Sedgefield and Perth to ride inferior horses.

She gave it her all on her rides and I saw her take some pretty hard falls.

Even at the Cheltenham Festival last year, she had all these winners – and the fact that she worked so hard to get there means that she appreciates each one of them – but she also had her fair share of falls.

She jumps up, you never hear her complain, and continues. She’s obviously a very talented rider, but she’s very, very tough – and that’s half the battle.

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PETER MOLONY – Race Director of Honeysuckle Owner Kenny Alexander

I first met Rachael on November 14, 2018 at Fairyhouse. It was Honeysuckle’s first run under Rules.

Henry from Bromhead had asked me two days earlier if we would be happy for Rachael to ride. I didn’t know much about her at the time other than that she had been a conditional champion and that Eddie O Leary of Gigginstown was a fan.

That was enough for Kenny and me. “Honey” won in impressive fashion – Rachael gave her a no frills ride – and I was certainly happy to have her ride for us again.

Nothing I’ve seen since has changed my mind. Before Cheltenham last year I was a huge fan, but what she achieved and the way she rode there put her on a whole new plane.

His forward racing lap over Sir Gerhard in the Champion Bumper was Dettori-esque. On the other hand, the way she got Telmesomethinggirl to sleep in the back in the Dawn Run Mares ‘Novices’ Hurdle and pulled off a blistering run was amazing.

A joy to watch. Unmatched.

VERDICT OF THE JOURNAL

It’s clear from Blackmore’s demeanor – and what those close to her are saying about her – that she’s focused on her career in the saddle.

But it takes more than hard work to become an exceptional jockey.

Blackmore was unable to fulfill her ambition to become a veterinarian because her academic performance failed to measure up.

But training his fellow jockeys aboard Honeysuckle in the 2020 Mares’ Hurdle and Sir Gerhard in last year’s Champion Bumper showed that his tactical brain was more than capable.

Add to that her talent for jumping horses and the fact that she is hard to beat at the finish and you will understand why she has risen to the top of her profession.

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