From Champion Hurdle retainment to Gold Cup success, Rachael Blackmore completed a memorable double at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, as Honeysuckle held on well to hold off Epatante on Tuesday, and A Plus Tard said ‘see you later’ to his stablemate Minella Indo to bolt up in the blue ribboned event on Friday.
These two victories, plus her fortunate success onboard Bob Olinger in the Turners Novices’ Chase, were Blackmore’s only successes of the whole meeting, collecting roughly £700,000 in first-place prize money for connections.
Looking at the Champion Hurdle, the team of Honeysuckle and Blackmore seemed to be in trouble approaching the last, as former champion Epatante under Aidan Coleman was closing with every stride, but a mistake by the J P McManus-owned mare, plus a good turn of foot from the defending champion, ensured that the prestigious hurdling trophy was on its way back to Ireland.
After the race, delighted trainer Henry De Bromhead had some kind words to share about his star mare and stable jockey, as he said: “She’s [Honeysuckle] incredible. It’s a never-ending fairy-tale; I’m always sort of trying to prepare myself for it to end, but she just keeps winning.
“It’s no more than she deserves, and like, if goodwill and all the good luck could win you a race, she would have won by a furlong, because most people here were willing her to win.
“You have to pinch yourself for how lucky we are to be involved with a horse like her, you know, she’s just incredible.
“With everyone back, and she won here last year, I just really hoped she might get that roar and it’s amazing for her.
“Rachael is just amazing, she’s the whole thing. She’s brilliant!
“They are just a dream team, and it’s incredible really!”
Precisely three days later, Blackmore wrote her name into the history books, as she became the first female jockey to lift the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
We were treated to a superb renewal of Friday’s feature race, as Blackmore produced a stunning ride to guide home A Plus Tard, with stablemate Minella Indo resigned to second place, a mere 15 lengths behind the runaway victor.
This result was a reversal of the 2021 Gold Cup, as last year saw Minella Indo led back into the winner’s enclosure to an anthem of music, and although the 32-year-old Rachael would have had the option to change which horse she rode this time around, there was never any doubt that she was going to be on A Plus Tard.
Rachel said: “I just didn’t want to do the same as last year, because it didn’t work, but, with more horses in front of me, it made sure I didn’t get there too soon.
“He felt very happy throughout the race this year, he jumped fantastically, I was able to take him back a little bit earlier, and he was just good over the last two.
“He picked up incredibly after the last, and it’s just an incredible feeling when you do that off the back of the last at Cheltenham.”
Rachael Blackmore captured the hearts and the minds of not just young, aspiring fans in horse racing, but she cemented her legendary status.
I was in the parade ring as she came in on both Honeysuckle and A Plus Tard, and just thinking about these isolated moments give me goosebumps.
She is wonderful, brilliant, and a credit to the sport.