In any other year, Rachael Blackmore’s Champion Hurdle victory aboard Honeysuckle would send Cheltenham into delirium. The Gloucestershire city would palpitate with electricity that could power the entire region.
But this being anything but an ordinary year, the buzz surrounding Blackmore’s historic feat was saved for the electronic devices used to watch and comment on her performance. Even though there were no fans to personally witness history on Tuesday’s first day of the Cheltenham Festival, Blackmore made it anyway. She became the first female jockey to win one of the festival’s premier events – the Champion Hurdle.
Blackmore piloted 11/10 favorite Honeysuckle to an easy 6 ½-length victory over last year’s Champion Hurdle runner-up Shariah. Epatante, the 2020 champion in this event, completed the trifecta.
“To me, this was never even a dream,” Blackmore told the Racing Post after the victory. “It was so far from what I ever thought could happen in my life. To be in Cheltenham, riding the winner of a Champion Hurdle, it’s so far removed from anything I ever thought could be possible. Maybe there’s a lesson in that for everyone out there.”
Two takeaways from Blackmore’s victory
The lessons here are two-fold. First, Honeysuckle is a legitimate jumping superstar. This was the 11th consecutive victory for the 7-year-old mare. Trained by Henry de Bromhead, Honeysuckle won last year’s David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham by a half-length. She beat French Champion Hurdle winner Benie de Dieux as the 9/4 second choice.
In February, Honeysuckle won the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown by a half-length as the 8/11 favorite. That was her 10th consecutive victory in as many career races.
The second lesson is that Blackmore is a legitimate talent. The 31-year-old Ireland native is only the second woman to hold an Irish National Hunt professional riding license. She turned pro in 2015, but didn’t win her first Grade 1 until 2019 when she piloted Minella Indo to a Cheltenham undercard victory.
Blackmore’s Grade 1 baker’s dozen
Since then, Blackmore has 12 more Grade 1 titles. Tuesday’s Champion Hurdle win gave her No. 13. She’s finished in the top three in the Irish jockeys’ championships for the past two years and sits in second place this season.
“Rachael is a brilliant rider on any horse, and Honeysuckle is just a brilliant horse,” de Bromhead told the BBC.
Tony McCoy, the 20-time British riding champion, told ITV during Tuesday’s Cheltenham telecast that “I really do think that if there was ever going to be a woman champion jockey, it’ll be Rachael Blackmore. “She’s class. Obviously, Honeysuckle’s a class mare, but we keep heaping praise on her (Blackmore) – and rightly so. She’s bombproof, she keeps everything simple. She makes very few mistakes. She’s got it all.”
There’s more to get. Blackmore has mounts in all of Cheltenham’s marquee races, including aboard Honeysuckle’s stablemate, A Plus Tard, in Friday’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.