How could they have doubted her? Henry de Bromhead chuckled as he relayed the story about Rachael Blackmore being none too pleased when her judgment was questioned and shook his head when he realised his error.
Blackmore, the queen of big race days, rarely makes a bad call and the decisiveness that has seen her land a Grand National and a Cheltenham Gold Cup from gut instinct proved spot on again as she guided Ain’t That A Shame to victory in the historic Goffs Thyestes Chase.
Ain’t That A Shame, at 14-1, was double the price of De Bromhead’s other runner, Shantreusse, but Blackmore was convinced of the gelding’s ability, and as she brought him with a relentless run up the rails to plunder the €59,000 first prize, you wondered why her belief wasn’t shared.
‘I’d said to her last week, maybe we’re going to have start calling you “Wrong choice Rachael” and I can tell you that she didn’t find it very funny!’ De Bromhead, whose day started with another 14-1 winner thanks to Champagne Mahler, said with a smile.
‘But look, fair play to her. It was some ride, wasn’t it? She was absolutely spot on.’
Jockey Rachael Blackmore and Ain’t That A Shame after the victory at Gowran Park
Isn’t she always? Blackmore wouldn’t necessarily enjoy the spotlight that her pioneering feats in the saddle have fixed on her but how a capacity crowd at Gowran Park rejoiced in the realisation it was she who was emerging through the gloom with a winning challenge.
This was a fabulous day in County Kilkenny, everything National Hunt racing should be, but a Blackmore win adds another layer of pizzazz and you only had to see the posse of schoolboys waiting around the paddock, pleading for selfies and autographs, to understand her reach.
Young and old, male and female, they all wanted to acknowledge what they had seen from a horse who, carrying the colours of Brian Acheson’s Robcour Racing, started favourite for last year’s Grand National (he was a legless last of the 17 finishers) but, most crucially, his pilot.
Perhaps it was best said by Sally De Bromhead, Henry’s mother. Her late husband, Harry, trained the 1992 Thyestes Chase winner Grand Habit and she had seen Henry’s first success in the contest seven years ago with Champagne West, but she felt compelled to speak about Blackmore.
‘It’s a fantastic race but she was amazing,’ Mrs De Bromhead said, softly. ‘She’s a special lady.’ There is no disputing that.
It was a special performance and it needed to be to repel the persistent challenge of the tenacious runner-up Glengouly, who had been primed to run for his life by Willie Mullins and did just that, with a series of bold jumps.
Mullins is away in sunnier climes, embracing the opportunity to get some rest in before the frenzy of the spring festivals arrives, and, as such, it was left to his son, Patrick, to oversee duties on course with assistant David Casey.
Frustrating as it was to see what would have been a record-extending 10th success in the Thyestes slither through their grasp, there were still three winners on the day for Mullins, the most emotional — and loudest celebrated — being that of Monkfish in the Grade Two Galmoy Hurdle.
Monkfish is huge, a chestnut with a white face, and has a reputation to match. His connections always thought he would win a Cheltenham Gold Cup one day — he’d won at the Festivals of 2020 and 2021 — but persistent injuries have kept him on the sidelines for almost three years.
He is the kind of horse a winter crowd holds in huge esteem, one who keeps coming back and giving his all. Monkfish certainly showed there is petrol in this particular engine, as he swept through between the last two flights and bounded up the hill to noisy acclaim.
‘He’s 10 years old now and injuries have got in the way,’ Mullins Jnr reported. ‘But what a great start this is to his season. We’ve always loved him. Would you believe, I got beat on him in a bumper at the Punchestown Festival?
Blackmore guided Ain’t That A Shame to victory in the historic Goffs Thyestes Chase
Blackmore’s gut instinct proved spot on again as she guided the 14-1 shot to victory
‘Will he go to Cheltenham? Let’s see. He was going to start over fences this year on New Year’s Day at Tramore but he got a little bang and we decided to wait for this.
‘All options are open but we’ll just wait and see and make sure he is OK in the morning.’
One horse that is certainly OK is Hewick, the €850 superstar who secured a new legion of fans after his thrilling success in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day. Shark Hanlon, his ebullient trainer, looked on with pride as Hewick prowled around the paddock to let locals show their appreciation.
‘Brilliant isn’t it?’ said Hanlon.It certainly was: brilliant animals, a brilliant atmosphere — and a brilliant jockey who they will never doubt again.