Blackmore ready to step up her bid for jockeys’ title

Intriguing ongoing battle with Townend for championship will be subplot at Fairyhouse

Rachael Blackmore: has been the busiest jump jockey in the country this campaign with over 450 rides already. She has four more rides scheduled at Fairyhouse on Saturday. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Rachael Blackmore could emerge from Saturday's Fairyhouse action on top of the jockeys' championship once again.

The title lead has swapped between Blackmore and Paul Townend this season with the latter currently holding a narrow lead of 82 winners to 80.

The leading Grand National contender Burrows Saint, who lines up in the Grade Three Bobbyjo Chase, is one of two rides Townend has for Willie Mullins on Saturday but his rival will be busier.

That’s little surprise since Blackmore has been the busiest jump jockey in the country this campaign with over 450 rides already. Her four spins on Saturday are all for different trainers.

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That appeal underlines both her chance of a groundbreaking championship victory this season and a status that sees Blackmore a 12-1 shot to first crowned leading rider at the upcoming Cheltenham festival.

Her main employer Henry De Bromhead supplies Jason The Militant in the Grade Three Red Mills Hurdle, a race switched from Gowran, although he looks to face a difficult task on ratings.

However the trio of Johngus, Choungaya and the handicap bottomweight Thunderosa all look to hold realistic chances under their in-form jockey.

Saturday’s programme also includes one of Charles Byrnes’ final runners before his six-month ban, for serious negligence in relation to the Viking Hoard case, starts next week.

Mister Butler lines up in a handicap hurdle off a mark 9lbs lower than his new chase rating after an encouraging run at Cork last month. Byrnes also runs Light Brigade in another handicap hurdle at Naas on Sunday but the Co Limerick trainer wasn't prepared to comment on Friday ahead of the weekend action.

His licence suspension is due to begin next Thursday, two weeks after his appeal against the high-profile ban failed.

In the past Sunday’s Naas programme has seen some significant late Cheltenham clues emerge although with just over a fortnight to the festival it looks a case of before the Lord Mayor’s show on this occasion.

Rating conundrum

Action opens with a ratings puzzle between Cilaos Emery and Daly Tiger in a Grade Three chase with the latter looking to hold a strict mathematical advantage.

Perhaps the most intriguing rating conundrum though will come in a later handicap hurdle where the luckless Aarons Day will try to defy topweight.

Oliver McKiernan’s charge ran an enormous race here four weeks ago in an infamous ‘false-start’ contest that ultimately saw racing’s regulator having to unreservedly apologise. Aarons Day lost an estimated 30 lengths to the rest of the field after a shambolic beginning that saw another of Sunday’s runners, Shaketry, unseat his rider.

Despite everything the McKiernan runner eventually found only Capilano Bridge too good in a performance that many assumed might ruin his handicap rating for some time to come.

Ultimately the handicapper put up Aarons Day by a seemingly lenient-looking 4lbs and he looks a leading contender to try and repeat last year’s win in this race.

Sunday's feature is the Grade Two Paddy Power Novice Hurdle where Willie Mullins's mare Echoes In Rain is at the bottom of the weights.

The course and distance winner looked to go too fast for her own good on the lead in the Moscow Flyer Hurdle last time and Dreal Deal ultimately came through to win. A more restrained early tempo could make Echoes in Rain tough to beat this time.

In other news Horse Racing Ireland has moved to try and plug the gap in opportunities for point to point horses in particular by running five new race meetings next month.

With point to points not resuming until April 5th at the earliest due to Covid-19 restrictions, and trainers desperate for chances to run horses, HRI has decided to add to its March programme.

First card

The first card will take place at Fairyhouse next Friday while the unique circumstances of the time are underlined by a Punchestown card taking place on the Monday before Cheltenham.

Wexford (March 20th) Navan (22nd) and Tipperary (24th) are the three other fixtures.

Fairyhouse and Navan will be made up largely of maiden hurdles while subject to demand the three others will be for horses eligible to run in point to points with point to point permit holders allowed to enter and run horses at those fixtures.

"Tuesday's announcement of a continuation of Level 5 restrictions means that point to point racing has not been able to resume yet in 2021 and HRI is very aware of the pressures being felt by those in the point to point community," said HRI's chief executive Brian Kavanagh.

"Working closely with the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee, the IHRB and racecourses, HRI has acted to ensure that some opportunities are available in the coming weeks.

“We very much hope that the national Covid picture improves sufficiently to allow point to point racing to resume fully post April 5th because of the vital role it plays in National Hunt racing and its importance to the rural economy,” added Kavanagh.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column