“It was an honour to be the first woman to win the Grand National, but it’s not a feeling I had crossing the line. That’s not what I felt. I just felt elated that I had won, not elated because I was a female who had won. Essentially, it’s not something I give much thought to.”
“You’ve 300 people waiting on a call, thinking you’re going to inspire them all, and you can’t even get your Zoom working,” says Rachael Blackmore.
To her lengthy list of achievements, then, she had added a kind-hearted display of empathy with this admission about her own techy woes over the last couple of years.
And not once did she lose patience with the eejit of a reporter who couldn’t unmute their mute button, all the while thinking that waving frantically, in a Forrest Gump-ish manner, and giving an exuberant thumbs-up, would resolve the matter.
“No, still can’t hear you … we could do it by sign language,” she giggles.
Obviously I have played sport my whole life, I love sport, so I know its value – to help confidence, self-belief, team-building— Rachael Blackmore
It couldn’t but strike you that if she was that undemanding as a jockey, herself and Minella Times would still be lumbering around Aintree in the 2021 Grand National.
Anyway, plan B, Zoom by phone, with said phone swaying violently in one hand while the other typed, leaves you fearing headlines along the lines of “Blackmore ruled out for a week with sea-sickness”.
Stoic, she is, but as a brand ambassador for KPMG, duty called on the day the company released the findings of its research into the benefits of participation in sport for women in business.
There were no great surprises – take part in sport, at any level at all, and the knock-on benefits will be bountiful. Submit your CV for a job and close to half of your potential employers will check to see if you play sport, reckoning that if you do, you might just be a good fit for the company.
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“It was an extremely interesting study,” she says. “Obviously I have played sport my whole life, I love sport, so I know its value – to help confidence, self-belief, team-building, there’s loads of different skills that can be transferable. But one stat in this survey that really stood out to me – that 90 per cent of CEOs have participated in sport. That’s a massive percentage. I think that just really highlights the importance of sport for Irish businesswomen.”
And as part of a generation of Irish sportswomen who have achieved phenomenal success, she hopes those achievements can help ease the perpetual problem of girls dropping out of sport.
“There are definitely more educated people than me to tackle that area, but I think the knock-on effect will be seen from the quality and success women in sport have had the last few years – there has to be a knock-on effect,” she says.
“And across the board, in a variety of different sports – it’s Ellen Keane in the swimming pool, it’s the girls playing soccer, it’s Kellie and Katie, it’s Leona, it’s the Meath footballers… when I was growing up, it was probably only Sonia [O’Sullivan]. I remember being in the lunchroom in school and we were all brought in to watch her. The excitement! She was the stand-out figure then for a lot of us; now, you can ream off names.”
And her own name is on that list. Close enough to the top, too.
It’s been a mind-blowing couple of years for the Tipperary woman, her success catapulting her from being a highly respected jockey, but one who wasn’t much known outside her own sporting world, to now being one of the country’s most recognisable faces.
The more success you have, the more expectations on your shoulders, but you really just have to take it in your stride because that’s what you want...— Rachael Blackmore
You remind her of her chat with Malachy Clerkin of this parish a few years back, a reluctant enough chat too because she preferred to do her talking out on the racecourse. She begged him not to use a big photo of her for the interview.
She laughs. “But I’m not sure I’ve overly changed in that sense, although life is different now for sure,” she says. “But that’s because of the success I’ve had and that’s not something I’d change. I feel I’m in a very privileged position.
“I definitely learned how to say no along the way, there was a realisation that you can’t do everything. For me racing obviously always comes first and everything has to fit in around that – if it doesn’t fit in, it’s not being done. So racing is always at the forefront, you’re just juggling other things to see if they fit and if they make sense.
“The more success you have, the more expectations on your shoulders, but you really just have to take it in your stride because that’s what you want... I want to win races; if that means you’ve got a little bit more pressure the next day you go, then so be it. In some ways you want that pressure because your chance of winning again has increased, I suppose.”
One of the quirkier aspects of her life in the last couple of years has been her adoption by the Can’t See, Can’t Be movement to promote women’s sport and to highlight the obstacles in its development.
Blackmore, though, hasn’t always been comfortable with that assignment, often pushing back at efforts to frame her successes purely in gender terms, insisting that her gender is the last thing on her mind on her greatest of days.
From an early age, it was never brought to my attention, I was just a kid riding my pony. It wasn’t an issue of gender. I was just me— Rachael Blackmore
“I think it’s the industry I’m in. When I entered the weighing room, Nina Carberry and Katie Walsh were there, they never made a big deal out of their gender – and no one in the racing world did. If you were good enough to ride, you worked hard, and you had the talent, you’d get the opportunities. That’s been the way in racing, and it’s an honour to be in a sport where that is the case – although I know that’s not the case in others.
“So, I’ve never felt the need to highlight that fact. I fully understand how, in the wider media, it’s a big deal – and obviously it was an honour to be the first woman to win the Grand National, but it’s not a feeling I had crossing the line. That’s not what I felt. I just felt elated that I had won, not elated because I was a female who had won. Essentially, it’s not something I give much thought to.”
And as a kid, she says, it never entered her head that being a girl would restrict her opportunities in the sport she loved.
“When I went to pony camp when I was seven or eight, there were girls and boys. When I started showjumping or started eventing, it was the same. There was never any gender issue in the equine industry as a whole, so that just transferred over to racing. From an early age, it was never brought to my attention, I was just a kid riding my pony. It wasn’t an issue of gender. I was just me.”
After she won the Grand National, she very famously said: “I can’t believe I am Rachael Blackmore. I still feel like that little kid. I can’t believe I’m me…”.
Have you figured out that you’re Rachael Blackmore yet?
She laughs. She has... ish. But there’s never any time to navel gaze about it.
“Racing is a relentless sport, you’re constantly moving forward, you’re on that wheel – and I’m so happy to be on it.”