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Until Rachael Blackmore and Minella Times won the 173rd Randox Grand National at Aintree on Saturday, a female riding the winner of the world’s greatest race was purely a work of fiction, Enid Bagnold’s 1935 classic, National Velvet.
But fiction is now fact and after riding six winners at Cheltenham including the Champion Hurdle, Blackmore, 31, smashed the biggest glass ceiling just about in all sport on Saturday as she rode into the history books. Now there really are no barriers, the gender discussion in the weighing room is done.
Having had a dream passage round the inside through the race and never further back than eighth, Blackmore hit the front at the second last on JP McManus’s lightly weighted eight-year-old who was sent off at 11-1, much of that money being placed on the jockey rather than the horse after being crowned leading jockey at Cheltenham.
The only horse to stick with her at the business end was the winner’s stable companion, the 100-1 shot Balko Des Flos who was only half a length down at the last. But Minella Times stayed on strongly up the long run-in and galloped all the way to the line to come six and a half lengths clear.
Any Second Now, another of McManus’s seven runners in the race but who did not have such a smooth passage as the winner, was a length and three quarters behind Balko Des Flos in third while Burrows Saint finished fourth, running well for a long way but not quite appearing to see out the trip.
Though Blackmore will make the headlines the horse’s Waterford trainer, Henry de Bromhead, who three weeks ago became the first man to win Cheltenham’s holy trinity of races in one hit, has also matched his 1-2 in the Gold Cup with a 1-2 in the National in the same season, surely in itself one of the greatest training feats in the history of jump racing.
“I am so lucky to be riding these horses for Henry,” said Blackmore who was a combination of dazed and emotional over after her greatest victory. “This is so massive. I had such a beautiful passage around. Minella Times jumped fantastically and didn’t miss a beat anywhere. I couldn't believe it, jumping the second-last - I don’t know, it’s just incredible.
“When I hit the rail and I heard I was four lengths in front, I knew he was going to gallop to the line, but we all know what can happen on the run-in here. When I crossed the line, I don’t know how I felt - it’s incredible.
“He was just unbelievable. I’m riding all these horses for Henry de Bromhead who had a one - two there. A massive thanks to JP McManus as well. It’s a privilege to ride in those silks. The family have had a tough year (McManus’s daughter-in-law died at Christmas) and hopefully this makes it a little easier for them.
“Ruby Walsh and Katie Walsh I’ve asked them both in the past about riding around here and they often talk about a semi-circle (of space) in front of you and I felt like I had that everywhere
“That is what you need in a race like this, you need so much luck to get around with no one else interfering first of all. You need so much to go right and things went right for me today. I feel so incredibly lucky.”
De Bromhead, who is used to celebrating great victories with a cup of tea on the ferry now, said: “It’s just brilliant, it’s all down to Rachael obviously, she was brilliant on him today, I’m just delighted - amazing, super ride, she hardly left the rail.
“She was just brilliant on him. It’s brilliant for the McManuses. Just over the moon. Balko Des Flos was super as well, Aidan (Coleman) was brilliant on him. Yes, I used to dream about winning this - of course, but it was a very distant dream! These are the races you want to win. I feel so fortunate.
“We were a bit unfortunate with Minella Times through the winter, having a couple of great runs and just getting beaten, but this makes up for it! We schooled the horses over some Aintree-type fences - fairly makeshift things - which seemed to have helped, but Minella Times is such a good jumper anyway.”
After the de rigeur false start, the field of 40 runners were, until the second last when he ran out of steam, led by the Sam Waley-Cohen ridden Jett who was 15 lengths clear jumping Valentine’s second time.
Cloth Cap, the 11-2 favourite, was second for a long way but he stopped quickly four out and was soon pulled up by Tom Scudamore who reported that he had gurgled. The jockey’s date with destiny will have to wait another year.
Blackmore was one of three female riders in this year’s race. Tabitha Worsley completed the field in 14th but Bryony Frost was taken to hospital – the second Paul Nicholls jockey on the day to end up there after Harry Cobden suffered facial injuries in an earlier race – following a heavy fall from Yala Enki early on the second circuit.
She was knocked out in the fall but was conscious when taken to hospital. She was the only human casualty. There was one equine fatality, another one of McManus’s runners, The Long Mile who was put down after breaking a leg on the flat between Becher’s second time and Foinavon’s fence.
In all 15 runners completed the course, four fell, one was brought down with the remainder pulled up.
Ireland fielded 18 runners in this year’s National, nearly half the field, and, in a repeat of the Cheltenham greenwash when they won 23 of the 28 races, only one British trained horse, Blaklion in sixth, finished in the top 11.
Despite it being the first National to be run with no crowd, it will go down as one of the most memorable. Elizabeth Taylor played Velvet Brown in the movie but Rachael Blackmore played it in real life. Whatever she did at Cheltenham, whatever she does in the future, this trumps it.
Henry de Bromhead completes racing's Grand Slam
By Marcus Armytage
At Cheltenham three weeks ago Waterford trainer Henry de Bromhead became the first trainer in jump racing history to win the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup with Honeysuckle, Put The Kettle On and Minella Indo.
It would have been impossible then to imagine that he could better it or have a horse in his Knockeen Stable more famous than any of that trio but Minella Times will now go down in racing folklore as the horse which carried the first female jockey to victory in the world’s greatest race and gave him jump racing’s grand slam, all in a season.
De Bromhead, 48, took over from his father, Harry, an old school Irish trainer, at Knockeen, the family home in 2000. Initially his interest was in the bloodstock side of racing and he spent time working for Coolmore.
But he had a stint in Newmarket with Sir Mark Prescott and a spell with Gold Cup winning trainer Robert Alner before he was set up by Ron Shaw to train under the owner’s name back home in Ireland.
Henry’s first winner was on New Year’s Day 2000 at Tramore and 21 years later he has arrived at the very summit of the sport and while he is third to Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott in Ireland, inside a month he has eclipsed anything they have done. His eight winners in Britain this season have won him £1.5m.
De Bromhead’s career took off when the late Alan and Anne Potts, then big new owners on the jump racing scene, arrived as owners with the outstanding Sizing Europe who went on to give the trainer the first of his three Champion Chases.
However, when the Potts took their horses away in 2016 sending them to Colin Tizzard and Jessica Harrington, he might have thought his chance had gone particularly when Sizing John, who he had trained, won the Gold Cup for Harrington six months later.
But the opposite happened. With the Potts gone, the empty boxes were soon filled by other big owners including Gigginstown, Cheveley Park, Kenny Alexander and McManus.
The next important thing to happen was the arrival of Blackmore. Eddie O’Leary of Gigginstown suggested she ride their horses, they started winning and soon all de Bromhead’s owners wanted her to ride his horses. Who has helped who the most is impossible to say, but together as trainer and jockey they have both flourished.
That's all for this live blog
We'll have a full report from today's big race up imminently - thanks for reading.
A sporting trailblazer
After Rachael Blackmore finished as leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival last month, our chief sports writer Oliver Brown wrote this piece - it's well worth a read after Blackmore's historic success this afternoon.
Bryony Frost has been taken to hospital after a fall on Yala Enki in the Grand National.
And The Long Mile sadly had to be euthanised after suffering an injury during the race - thoughts with all his connections.
More quotes from Rachael Blackmore
This is a massive deal for me personally, not the fact I'm a female. The thing that hit me when I crossed the line was that I'd won the National, not that I'm the first female to win the National. I'm just delighted.
Your 2021 Grand National winner
There were 15 finishers
Minella Times (Rachael Blackmore) 11/1
Balko Des Flos (Aidan Coleman) 100/1
Any Second Now (M P Walsh) 15/2
Burrows Saint (Mr P W Mullins) 9/1
Farclas (JW Kennedy) 16/1
Blaklion (Harry Skelton) 50/1
Discorama (BJ Cooper) 16/1
Jett (Mr S Waley-Cohen) 80/1
Cabaret Queen (S F O'Keeffe) 80/1
Shattered Love (KC Sexton) 33/1
Alpha Des Obeaux (J S McGarvey) 80/1
Hogan's Height (G Sheehan) 100/1
Acapella Bourgeois (DE Mullins) 20/1
Sub Lieutenant (Tabitha Worsley) 50/1
Class Conti (B Hayes) 66/1
'The Queen of Aintree'
Sir AP McCoy is pretty impressed with Rachael Blackmore's performance...
"We keep praising her and rightly so - what she has done for this sport is amazing.
"It's given every young girl hope to come and win the biggest horse race in the world, on the biggest stage and be able to beat everyone and put them in their place.
"She's the Queen of Aintree really isn't she?"
Rachael Blackmore talking to ITV
The Grand National is just so massive, I just really can't believe that myself, Henry [de Bromhead] and JP McManus have won it. It's phenomenal, I'm speechless. [When I was younger] I never even imagined I'd get a ride in this race, let alone be standing here looking at the trophy! It's just phenomenal, this race is the race that captures every young person who has a pony's imagination - it's just unbelievable [to win it].
A moment for the history books
Grand National full results
'I don't even feel human'
Some more reaction from your 2021 Grand National winning jockey Rachael Blackmore:
"I don't feel male or female right now. I don't even feel human. This is just unbelievable."
And here she is with the trophy:
Reaction from winning trainer Henry de Bromhead
Rachael was brilliant today, I'm delighted. She was amazing, a super ride, she hardly left the rail...I'm over the moon. It feels amazing, it really does, it's incredible - the stuff you dream of. I've been watching it since I was a kid and I'm just so lucky.
Here's the moment Rachael Blackmore became the first female jockey to win the Grand National. What a superb jockey she is.
Full results, winners, finishers and fallers
We'll have a full rundown from the 2021 Grand National, including complete results and all the finishers and fallers, here for you shortly.
Sir AP McCoy on Rachael Blackmore
"She's got it all, she's proved it on the biggest stage and everyone in the world can see it."
What a moment for Rachael Blackmore
But also for winning trainer Henry de Bromhead, who cleaned up with the three biggest prizes at the Cheltenham Festival and has now added the world's most famous race. Not a bad few weeks for him!
Reaction from the winning jockey
It was a sensational spin...it's unbelievable. He was incredible, jumped beautifully...when we jumped the last and I asked him for a bit he was there. It's just incredible.
History for Rachael Blackmore!
She becomes the first female jockey to win this famous race!! Irish horses fill the first four places.
Minella Times (Rachael Blackmore) 11-1
Balko Des Flos (Aidan Coleman) 100-1
Any Second Now (M P Walsh) 15-2
Burrows Saint (Mr P W Mullins) 9-1
She's over the last safely
And past the Canal Turn and extending her lead - and Rachael Blackmore has done it on Minella Times!
She becomes the first female jockey to win this famous race!!
Minella Times in the lead from Balko Des Flos. Can Rachael Blackmore make history?
Has been pulled up before the third last! The favourite is out.
Three to jump
Another sound leap from the leader Jett who looks in control
Jett clears the Canal Turn
Cloth Cap and Burrow Saint in second and third, eight lengths or so down.
Heading for Becher's the second time
A commanding lead for Jett, he must be about 10 lengths in front at this stage!
Jett is giving Sam Waley-Cohen a great spin at the front, he's extended his lead over Cloth Cap to about eight lengths or so. Mister Malarky has pulled up.
They're heading to The Chair
It's still Jett at the head of the field, with a four-length advantage to the favourite Cloth Cap.
They're over the Melling Road
Jett still leads the field in the early stages, pursued by Lord Du Mesnil and Cloth Cap.
Anibale Fly has been pulled up.
Minella Celebration blunders and unseats his rider
Jett gets over it in the lead, with Cloth Cap and Double Shuffle alongside him
Becher's Brook next
And they all appear to have jumped it safely
Lord Du Mesnil, Jett and Cloth Cap leading
Magic Of Light has unseated her rider
A faller at the first
Lake View Lad goes
AND THEY'RE OFF
And racing in the Grand National!
The world is watching
The horses are heading to the start, a couple of minutes until the big one gets under way.
About seven minutes until they go to post
For the 2021 Grand National. The horses have done their circuit of the paddock and the jockeys have lined up for their customary photo.
So much hope and expectation at the moment and so many potential stories. Can the favourite Cloth Cap win a fourth National for owner Trevor Hemmings?
Or could Rachael Blackmore, Tabitha Worsley or Bryony Frost make history by becoming the first female jockey to win this famous race?
It's nearly time for us to find out.
Runners and riders - 32 to 40
32. The Long Mile
33. Give Me A Copper
35. Minella Times
36. Sub Lieutenant
37. Hogan’s Height
38. Double Shuffle
39. Ami Desbois
Runners and riders - 25 to 31
25. Milan Native
27. Vieux Lion Rouge
28. Cloth Cap
29. Cabaret Queen
Runners and riders - 17 to 24
17. Alpha Des Obeaux
18. Ok Corral
20. Shattered Love
22. Lord Du Mesnil
23. Potters Corner
24. Class Conti
Runners and riders - 9 to 16
9. Acapella Bourgeois
11. Tout Est Permis
12. Anibale Fly
13. Mister Malarky
14. Kimberlite Candy
15. Any Second Now
16. Balko Des Flos
Runners and riders - 1 to 8
Bristol De Mai
Lake View Lad
Magic Of Light
The betting market as it stands
Cloth Cap 11/2
Any Second Now 8/1
Burrows Saint 9/1
Minella Times 11/1
Mister Malarky 12/1
Magic Of Light 14/1
Kimberlite Candy 16/1
More backing for Burrows Saint
ITV Racing presenter and Telegraph Sport columnist Ed Chamberlin joins Marlborough in tipping up the 2019 Irish National winner. Ed picked the winner in 2017 and 2018 - then had third in 2019, so he has a decent track record of National success.
Marlborough's Grand National verdict
Our champion tipster has his say:
Cloth Cap cemented his position at the head of the market last month with a comfortable win in the Premier Chase at Kelso, a race that Many Clouds and Ballabriggs (in 2016 & 2011 respectively) both used as launchpads for Grand National glory.
Moreover, Cloth Cap’s Kelso victory last month not only sees him escape a penalty for his success, but also leaves him officially 14lb “well-in” in the eyes of the handicapper. If there is a chink in his armour, Cloth Cap did show a tendency to jump to his left at times at Kelso, which could prove problematic in a field as big as this.
Far and away his biggest danger looks to be BURROWS SAINT, whose record on “good to soft” ground or better (since joining Willie Mullins) reads 4111. Burrows Saint justified favouritism to win the Irish Grand National back in 2019 and looks to have been targeted at Aintree ever since.
Anibale Fly is a high-class horse on his day, having finished 2nd in the 2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup prior to finishing a good 5th placing under top weight in the Grand National the following month (also finished 4th in the Aintree showpiece in 2018). He races off a notably kinder weight this year and can reward each-way support.
Discorama rates an interesting contender following wind surgery through the winter, an operation that can easily draw out further improvement. Seven-year-old Farclas has yet to race beyond three miles, and therefore has his stamina to prove here. If he can stay this far, he could be a major danger to all, having proved most progressive in his burgeoning steeplechasing career; he completes the shortlist.
Haven't placed your bet yet?
A good sign for Cloth Cap backers?
It's five successful favourites from five races so far at Aintree as Happygolucky claims the Betway Handicap Chase under a typically confident ride from David Bass. Can the Grand National favourite Cloth Cap make it six?
Marcus Armytage's Grand National tips
Our racing correspondent has selected his top three for this year's race.
Here's what he had to say in his National preview: "Takingrisks comes to the race on the back of a win in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster. He will relish both the distance and the ground. The one thing for sure is that if he is still on the premises crossing the Melling Road for the last time he is unlikely to be outstayed by much.
"Only his age would appear to be statistically against him with Amberleigh House in 2004 the last to win it but until Takingrisks won at Doncaster last time out, no 12-year-old had ever won that race...
"Course form cannot be underestimated which puts Kimberlite Candy right in the frame and he looks the pick of JP McManus’s seven runners. He has twice been second in the Becher Chase and will relish the trip. Magic of Light was second to Tiger Roll two years ago and while that should be noted few placed horses come back and actually win it."
Marcus Armytage's Grand National top three:
Bristol de Mai
Sneak peek of your Grand National favourite
Jonjo O'Neill's Cloth Cap heads the market for the world's greatest steeplechase at 6/1. They'll be going to post in just over an hour's time at 5.15pm.
For jockey Harry Cobden, who had a heavy fall earlier and has been stood down from his remaining rides on today's card - including Give Me A Copper in the Grand National. Sean Bowen replaces him on board Paul Nicholls' National contender.
Backing more than one runner in the big race? These Grand National free bets could come in useful.
Thrilling finish to the Stayers Hurdle!
Roksana jumps the last ahead of Thyme Hill and they go at it hammer-and-tongs on the run-in! Roksana looks like she's going to hold off her rival but Tom O'Brien manages to find just enough and Thyme Hill wins it by a neck. Disappointing for fans of Paisley Park who was pulled up as they turned for home - hopefully he's OK.
Thyme Hill (T J O'Brien) 5/2 F
Roksana (Harry Skelton) 7/2
Thomas Darby (J W Kennedy) 28/1
Nicky Henderson's superstar pockets another Grade One with the Doom Bar Maghull Novices' Chase. The Arkle winner went off at 1/8 and put up a decent rather than spectacular performance against four rivals, easing to a three-length win over Funambule Sivola.
Made your Grand National picks? These bookies have free bet offers.
Looking for some Grand National free bets?
Impressive win for the Skeltons
In our second race of the day, with the 5/4 fav My Drogo. He travelled ominously and eased into the lead with two flights to jump then sauntered home to win by a long way. He looks a serious prospect and will be sent chasing next year.
My Drogo (Harry Skelton) 5/4 F
Minella Drama (B S Hughes) 12/1
Guard Your Dreams (Sam Twiston-Davies) 28/1
The favourite wins the first race of the day
Ciaran Gethings eased Hometown Boy into the lead as they turned for home and he looked to be cruising to victory. But he made a serious blunder at the last and just about managed to stay upright, before staying on to win from the late-charging J'Ai Froid.
Hometown Boy (C Gethings) 6/1 F
J'Ai Froid (M Kendrick) 11/1
Tea Clipper (Rachael Blackmore) 8/1
Think Cloth Cap will be unstoppable in the Grand National? Back him with these free bets.
There will be
A two-minute silence at Aintree at 1.35pm to honour the Duke of Edinburgh who died yesterday.
Forty years since the greatest comeback of all
To mark 40 years since Bob Champion's remarkable Grand National triumph on Aldaniti, Alan Tyers has spoken to the former jockey who plans to mark the occasion with another mammoth feat.
Our first race of the day at Aintree
Is due off in just over 45 minutes - it's the EFT Systems Handicap Hurdle at 1.45pm.
Then there are four more races - at 2.25, 3.00, 3.35 and 4.15 - before the Randox Grand National gets under way at 5.15pm.
New to betting on the Grand National online? Read this how-to guide.
Telegraph Sport tips
We've canvassed a selection of our writers and columnists and asked them for their picks for the Aintree showpiece.
Our champion tipster Marlborough joins ITV Racing's Ed Chamberlin in selecting Burrows Saint, while Jamie Carragher has chosen Definitly Red "for obvious reasons" - although he admits he's not an especially successful tipster.
Fancy a responsible flutter?
O'Neill braced for new chapter in 'love-hate' affair with National
Our racing correspondent Marcus Armytage has interviewed Jonjo O'Neill, who trains this year's Grand National favourite Cloth Cap - and this race has given the trainer a career high and two of its deepest lows.
“It’s love-hate,” O'Neill says of his relationship with the race. “Love when it’s good, hate when it goes wrong. It’s totally different to any other race. It’s the greatest race to ride in or have a runner in. It’s the race we all live for. It’s the people’s race.
“If you win the National you go into Tesco and they say, ‘You won the National’. You could win 10 Gold Cups and they wouldn’t know who you are.”
Despite being twice champion jockey, Aintree made its disdain for him as a rider pretty clear from the outset. His first ride in it was in 1973 on Glenkiln, who, as the more fancied of his two runners, ran in the first colours of Noel Le Mare.
Having fallen at the Chair, O’Neill stood by the water to watch Red Rum, in the second colours, go past an “unconscious” Crisp in the dying strides.
In seven rides O'Neill famously never got further than the Canal second time but 16 days after he had won the 1979 Gold Cup on Alverton, the horse was cantering at Becher’s second time with just 10st 12lb on his back when he broke his neck.
By 2010, after near-misses as a trainer with Clan Royal and Sunnyhillboy – beaten a nose by Neptune Collonges – O’Neill was beginning to think the National would always elude him.
Don’t Push It put it right not only for him but, famously, for another National underachiever, Sir Anthony McCoy. However, it was back to hate again in 2012 when his own Gold Cup winner, Synchronised, fell and was then fatally injured while loose.
O’Neill says the National has improved in quality so much that you need a classy horse to win it. “Clan Royal wouldn’t even qualify for it now,” he points out. “It’s a Gold Cup over four miles. Cloth Cap is a good handicapper but he’s not a Gold Cup horse and there’s a massive difference although getting weight brings us in...But, I suppose, if there was ever a good chance we’ve got it with Cloth Cap.”
It's Grand National day!
Hello and welcome to our coverage of the world's greatest steeplechase, which takes place at 5.15pm.
We'll have everything you need in the run-up to the Randox Grand National, including tips, a breakdown of all 40 runners and riders, and our verdict on who will join the pantheon of winners later on.
Following Prince Philip's death, a two-minute silence will be held on course ahead of the big race, while jockeys will be invited to wear black armbands and flags will be flown at half-mast at Aintree.
Rachael Blackmore, Bryony Frost and Tabitha Worsley are looking to make history by becoming the first female jockey to win this famous race. Blackmore, who was top jockey at the Cheltenham Festival last month, rides Minella Times, Frost is on Yala Enki and Worsley rides Sub Lieutenant.
At the moment, Cloth Cap is the favourite for the National at about 11/2. He started the week at 4/1 and has drifted slightly in the betting but the Jonjo O'Neill-trained horse looks well handicapped and should have a decent chance.
Burrows Saint is the second favourite and he's been tipped up by ITV Racing presenter and Telegraph Sport columnist Ed Chamberlin.
Ed's had plenty of success at the National in recent years - picking winners in 2017 with One For Arthur and 2018 with Tiger Roll, then tipping Rathvinden who finished third in 2019. See what he has to say about today's edition here:
Burrows Saint looks primed to win racing's biggest prize on what will be a sombre afternoon
We've got everything you need for the Grand National here at Telegraph Sport, including:
Let's hope we have a fantastic day of racing - and good luck if you're betting on the big one!