Jockey Rachael Blackmore took the honours – and the headlines – on day one of The Festival 2021 at Cheltenham Racecourse, becoming the first woman to win the Unibet Champion Hurdle.
She rode the 11-10 favourite, Henry de Bromhead-trained Honeysuckle to the win by six and a half lengths as the annual even got underway, without spectators due to the restrictions of the ongoing pandemic.
The 31-year-old Irish jockey paid tribute to everyone who helped prepared the as yet unbeaten mare for victory, and played down the angle everyone else seized upon – that she is the first woman to triumph in the famous race.
‘There is no deal about being a female jockey anymore. If you want to be a jockey you can be a jockey, drive on,’ she told the BBC post-race.
Retired jockey Katie Walsh, who came third in the 2012 Grand National on Seabass, told BBC Radio Five Live Blackmore’s win was ‘huge for sport, huge for women’.
‘There is no other elite sport a girl can go out and compete with the boys,’ she said.
It was a great start to The Festival 2021, with the Tipperary rider expected to race six more times – including Friday’s show-piece the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
A Jockey Club spokesperson said: ‘The Tuesday of The Festival™ supporting WellChild was historic for a number of reasons, but not least because Rachel Blackmore became the first female jockey to win the Unibet Champion Hurdle, partnering the unbeaten mare Honeysuckle to victory.
‘That was one of a number of wonderful performances on the day, which also included a wide margin win for Appreciate It in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and an effortless win for Shishkin in the Sporting Life Arkle Trophy.’
‘While it is sad that we couldn’t welcome owners or spectators to enjoy the event, the racing certainly lived up to expectations and we are very much looking forward to the remainder of the week.’
The daughter of a dairy farmer and a school teacher, Rachael Blackmore has been described as a ‘quiet pioneer’ in her chosen sport.
She finished in the top three in the Irish jockeys’ championship at the end of the last two seasons and is currently in second this season and still in with a chance of achieving three on the trot.
Blackmore has a degree in equine science and had aimed to become a vet, somehow managing to combine her studies with competing as an amateur. She turned professional in 2015.
Wednesday of The Festival she rides Bob Olinger in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at 1.20pm and Notebook in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at 3.05pm.
Blackmore is expected to ride A Plus Tard in the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday.
Read more: 6 ways to celebrate The Festival™ at home
By Andrew Merrell