Rachael Blackmore is in a race against time to get the one extra winner over fences that she needs to be allowed to take part in the Grand National a week on Saturday. Blackmore’s nine career winners over fences leave her one short of the minimum required under a rule that applies only to the famous Aintree race.
“I thought I might get it on Folsom Blue yesterday, but it wasn’t meant to be,” Blackmore said on Monday in reference to a horse that was half fancied for Sunday’s Ulster National but faded into 11th place. “I’ll have to try and get some good chase rides lined up for the weekend.”
There are only three days of jump racing left in Ireland before the 6 April deadline by which Grand National jockeys must be qualified, the next of which is Limerick on Thursday. A win in Britain would do just as well but Blackmore has depended on her main employer, the trainer ‘Shark’ Hanlon, for her chances here and he has nothing entered in Britain just now.
Blackmore, from Tipperary and who is four wins clear in the race to be champion conditional jockey in Ireland this season, was coy about which runner she might hope to ride in the National. However, jockey plans have yet to be set for quite a few of those entered, including for the five runners likely to represent Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown operation, whose maroon colours Blackmore was wearing aboard Folsom Blue.
British racegoers have yet to see much of Blackmore, who made a quiet debut at the Cheltenham Festival this month. The best of her three rides there proved to be Ex Patriot, fourth at 28-1 in the Triumph Hurdle.
Blackmore’s career highlight so far came on the Sunday before Cheltenham, when she won the 18-runner Leinster National at Naas aboard Abolitionist. She is expected to be on the same horse in the Irish National on Easter Monday, for which he is fourth in the betting. “She’s a great girl at getting a horse to jump,” Hanlon says. “She’s better at schooling than a lot of the lads and she comes and schools all my young horses. Horses jump for her, without a doubt. She’s tough enough and she’s been working on her strength for the past two years.”
If Blackmore finds her way into the National field she will be joining a short list of women to have taken part in the race. So far, there have been only 15 in its 178‑year history, Katie Walsh having fared best when third in 2012. Walsh has been booked to ride Wonderful Charm this time.
Eddie O’Leary, Gigginstown’s racing manager, said it is “too early” to be discussing Grand National jockeys but confirmed that all five of their horses in the race are intended runners if they remain fit and healthy. Bryan Cooper, Gigginstown’s retained jockey, will have his pick of the five nearer the time.
Cooper must hope to choose better than a year ago, when he and First Lieutenant fell at the second fence while David Mullins wore the maroon silks to glory on Rule The World. This time, Cooper’s options include the past two Irish National winners, Rogue Angel and Thunder And Roses, as well as Roi Des Francs, Measureofmydreams and Wounded Warrior.
Regal Encore, meanwhile, is a doubtful runner in the National, with the Irish equivalent being the preferred option as things stand. “His jumping can be a bit in and out,” said Frank Berry, spokesman for the owner JP McManus. “He gets into Fairyhouse with a nice weight.”
McManus is likely to be represented in the National by Cause Of Causes, More Of That and Pendra, while a decision about the participation of Carlingford Lough is expected this weekend. Jockeys are more of a concern for McManus; Barry Geraghty hopes an MRI scan on Tuesday will show that his three broken ribs have healed sufficiently in the past month to allow him to ride at Aintree while Mark Walsh’s broken leg will be examined at the end of the week. “He’s making good progress,” Berry said of Walsh. “If he doesn’t make Liverpool, he’ll definitely be back for the Irish National.”