2021 was Rachael Blackmore’s year as she carved into the history books.
She might not be comfortable with people referring to her gender in relation to her accomplishments, but what the 32-year-old has accomplished as a jockey is truly revolutionary.
There have been some brilliant performances from women in the saddle over the years, but Blackmore has taken things to another stratosphere.
Not only did she compete on a level playing field in a male dominated sport, she just turned out to be better than the boys.
A masterclass at Cheltenham in March saw her partner six winners take the award for best jockey and tactically she was a class of her own.
His partnership with star mare Honeysuckle became one of the best relationships in racing and their victory in the Champion Hurdle was a real highlight.
In a show of sheer domination, the mare trained by Henry de Bromhead dismissed her rivals with utter contempt to maintain her unbeaten record in the Championship event.
The pair are so perfectly matched as they both represent the pinnacle of their sport right now.
Other featured performances from National Hunt Racing’s demo week included a stunning Bob Olinger victory in the Ballymore Novices Hurdle and a shrewd run to the top of Sir Gerhard in the Champion Bumper.
Cheltenham is obviously a huge week for show jumping fans, but one race in the year transcends the sport like no other.
The world is focused on Aintree in April and in the 173 Grand National renewals, only 19 female jockeys have entered the race.
Charlotte Brew led the way by aligning with Barony Fort in 1977 and five years later Geraldine Rees became the first woman to complete the course on Cheers.
Katie Walsh came close in 2012 by finishing third on Seabass, but it was fitting that Blackmore was the one who made the historic breakthrough.
Previous competitors embodied a Corinthian spirit, but Walsh and Nina Carberry brought a more professional, though still amateur, attitude to their challenges.
Blackmore truly relied on the accomplishments of Ireland’s best “ladies” and broke the mold as a professional.
After reaching a new level, there was no better person to finally win the biggest prize of all on Liverpool turf.
Once again, she teamed up with Bromhead’s main supporter who capped off an outstanding season.
Minella Times went to post an 11/1 shot in the marathon contest and it all turned out pretty straightforward in the end.
Gelding Oscar had a dream run in a race so often filled with drama and sprinted flawlessly at the ‘elbow’ to register a six-and-a-half-length victory over his 100/1 teammate Balko Des Flos.
Sadly, there were no crowds to savor this magical moment, but millions of people watched one of the greatest sporting moments in recent history from afar.
As always, Blackmore tried to focus on the horse’s accomplishments rather than her own and when asked if she was the first female to win the world’s most famous race, she said, “I don’t care. not meaning male or female right now. I don’t even feel human.
Some have said that sex shouldn’t even be a factor at all these days, but that dismisses what this achievement will mean for generations to come.
It is a common sight on racetracks here in Ireland and England to see Blackmore assaulted by young girls as she walks from the weigh-in hall to the parade ring.
And each time, she takes a moment to pose for photos and autographs.
It’s a little ironic that riding schools and pony clubs have always had a much higher percentage of girls.
Rachael Blackmore has shown these young horse enthusiasts that racing is a viable career path for their future and in an industry facing a game-changing workforce crisis.
It might not suit her very well sometimes, but she has become a poster child of the “if she can’t see it, she can’t be” movement.
Of course, Blackmore can’t achieve the success she’s had without the horses under her and the bond with Henry de Bromhead has proven to be a huge boost to her career.
From humble beginnings, she has fought tooth and nail to seize the opportunities she is currently securing and is the first to recognize the privileged position she has earned.
De Bromhead himself had a remarkable year in 2021, becoming the first coach in history to saddle the winners of the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup in a single season.
Adding the Grand National to that was double cream and he saddled the top two at Aintree to start.
In a country where Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott have dominated in recent years, the Waterford manager has really come out on top.
He has a lot of firepower in his Knockeen yard run by last year’s Gold Cup winner Minella Indo.
In a rare reversal, Blackmore got caught up in the dark when Jack Kennedy’s mount won the Blue Ribbon event at Prestbury Park, beating his teammate A Plus Tard.
She’s been back on the mount since and with people like him, Honeysuckle, Bob Olinger, Minella Times, Envoy Allen and Quilixios to anticipate 2022 can only bring more success.
Horse racing is always trying to fight for attention and relevance in an ever-changing world and it needs their stars to shine brightly.
Diminishing column inches and mainstream TV coverage have hit many once-important sports over the past few decades and racing must remain in the public consciousness to survive.
Frankie Dettori has probably been the only real star of the race in recent years, someone who is instantly recognizable to the man in the street.
Blackmore is a whole different character, but her accomplishments have propelled her to a platform bigger than racing.
She liked the awards towards the end of the year and gained international recognition when she received the RTE Sportsperson of the Year and BBC World Sports Star of the Year gongs.
The sport is in dire need of this exposure, especially in a year that ended with more unfortunate titles.
Rachael Blackmore’s story is one that races can be proud of and I hope she can continue to write many more titles in the years to come.