It is not quite ‘Father Christmas, Lapland’ but the letter addressed to ‘Rachael Blackmore, Ireland’ reached its destination and still makes the recipient smile.
Blackmore is taking us back to the giddy spring of 2021, when she became the first woman to be crowned top jockey at the Cheltenham Festival after riding six winners; another first — the most memorable of all — was the tremor-inducing success in the Randox Grand National.
Life changed in those four short weeks. The moment it dawned on Blackmore things would never be the same came when she drove through her village of Killenaule, County Tipperary and could not believe what she was seeing.
‘My face was in the shop windows and on posters everywhere,’ she explains. ‘I was thinking, “Jeez! This is a big deal!” I knew winning the Grand National was big but when I realised it had impacted the whole town, and beyond, that was it. Then the letters started coming!
‘You definitely know when letter writing is on the primary school curriculum in Ireland. Teachers get the kids to write to someone they admire and it’s easy to tell when that week comes around! When you get letters, the kids always ask about Honeysuckle.’
Rachael Blackmore revealed she knew her life would never be the same after her historic 2021
Blackmore rode onboard Minella Times to become the first woman to win the Grand National in the 182-year history of the race
There will be time, later, to talk about that flying mare with a place in Cheltenham legend but there is much to discuss with Blackmore. First, we must stop eating popcorn and talk about the leading lady of the movie we have just watched together: her.
Rachael Blackmore: The Game Changer has been produced by her sponsors, Betfair. The premise of the documentary, available on YouTube, is that she is a serial winner. The insight is fascinating and she is humbled that people want to watch it. ‘Sure, you’d never think something like this is going to happen,’ she says, softly. ‘It’s cool to see it all together but, you know, it’s strange to watch in a way. And the title… it’s a lie!’
She laughs when delivering that line but there is a grain of truth in what she says. It makes you think of Sir Anthony McCoy, who will always tell you nobody rode more losers than him when you tell him nobody rode more winners.
Racing is a tough game, full of knockbacks and hard knocks. Blackmore might be at the peak of her powers, but it is never far from her mind that there were points early on when it felt like her career would never take off.
‘When you start out as a jockey, you try to make yourself known,’ she begins. ‘You want people to give you rides but there are always challenges. I remember ringing up a trainer — I won’t say who — when I was an amateur.
‘I was a 7lb claimer, looking to ride in a fillies’ bumper; the weights were quite light. I just decided to call and chance it, to see if they needed someone. I got through to them. “Hi, it’s Rachael Blackmore here. Are you fixed up for the bumper on Sunday?”
‘They said, “Oh, hi Rachael, who do you have again?”’ They thought I was an agent. So I said, “No, it’s just me. I’m trying to get a ride”. But they said, “No, we’re fixed up”. They were the knocks. I’d put the phone down and know I’d have to start again.’
The 34-year-old was crowned World Sport Star of the Year at the 2021 BBC Sports Personality of the Year award ceremony
With a degree in equine science from the University of Limerick, she could easily have followed another path. Did it ever cross her mind she might have to give up?
‘I don’t know,’ she says. ‘There is something about racing that just keeps you in it. It’s the dream. There’s always a chance you can buy a horse for €1,000 and it can have an unbelievable story. You might spend €400,000 and you’ll have more chance of success but there is no set rule.
‘I just always had that hope one day someone would pick up the phone and say “yes”, the horse would win and the ball would start rolling. I never struggled with knockbacks. I just kept going.
‘When I was going through college, I was riding at the same time and I always hoped it would take off. I’m lucky I get to ride such good horses and I’m involved with a big yard that have lots of good horses and we expect winners. What am I like when they don’t win? Not happy!’
A story to prove this point. A few days after our meeting, she was riding at Fairyhouse. Her best chance on the day was for her boss, Henry de Bromhead, on board novice hurdler An Tobar in a Grade One. Having led most of the way, the pair were worn down in the final furlong.
Back in the unsaddling enclosure, her demeanour was as dank as the day. A little while later, though, she had cooled down and was signing autographs and posing for photos, which has become a daily occurrence.
‘It’s a privileged position to be in, having people looking up to you,’ says Blackmore, who was awarded an honorary MBE in June. ‘I want to ride winners for myself, first and foremost.
‘If it inspires someone else, then that’s class. Do I get recognised? Maybe if I walked around Dublin dressed as a jockey, people would know me!
‘Yes, I’ve been in restaurants and someone has asked for a picture but it’s usually during a week of racing. If you are in the airport, it’s usually because you are going racing and people on the flight are going racing. But it’s definitely not at the level people might think.’
Blackmore has claimed success riding horses trained by Henry de Bromhead (pictured)
Blackmore secured a repeat win on Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival
She is able to enjoy life and there is much in life that Blackmore, 34, enjoys. She is as happy sitting at home immersed in Netflix — she has just finished watching Beckham and gives it a positive review — as she is going out for dinner and devouring a tasting menu.
‘I love food — every morning I have porridge and Nutella,’ she enthuses. ‘My perfect dinner? A roast. I also love going to fancy restaurants where you have lots of small courses and it’s all gorgeous. I don’t drink. I had a few drinks when I was starting out but I didn’t really enjoy it. It wasn’t for me.’
What is for her, however, are more champagne moments. Her bright smile has been a defining image at Cheltenham, thanks largely to Honeysuckle, who was responsible for four of her haul of 14 Festival victories. Being back there next spring without her will be strange.
‘It’s easy to talk about Honeysuckle now she’s retired and in foal,’ says Blackmore of the dual Champion Hurdler. ‘During her career it was much harder, with the pressure. How Henry trained her through her career was phenomenal. To be a part of it? It was incredible.’
A bit like the journey Blackmore has been on herself.