Talking Horses 2021 review: brilliant Blackmore shines in year of scandals | Horse racing

As recently as 2005, less than a year after saddling his fourth Grand National winner, the late trainer Ginger McCain, of Red Rum fame, made a confident prediction that a female jockey would never win the world’s most famous steeplechase.

At the time, it had been a decade since a woman had even taken part and only two of the 15 female jockeys who had ridden in the National had managed to complete the race.

Sixteen years later, when Rachael Blackmore crossed the Aintree finishing line on Minella Times in April, a landmark moment for the sport was, at the same time, no great surprise. That says a little about how swiftly attitudes can change, and a great deal about Blackmore’s exceptional talent for steering half-ton steeplechasers around jumping’s most demanding tracks as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The ride on Minella Times was textbook Blackmore: perfectly positioned from the off, saving ground on the inner and in touch with the lead, and finding a great response from her horse as he jumped the unique Aintree fences for the first time. When Blackmore eased into the lead two out, it was already a case of not if but by how far.

Blackmore has never really engaged with talk of glass ceilings or breakthroughs, preferring instead to be seen as a jump jockey who happens to be female. It was the same after her greatest triumph in April, as it had been at the Cheltenham Festival three weeks earlier when six winners, including Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle on the opening afternoon, meant she won the award for the meeting’s leading rider for the first time.

Blackmore finished the week one short of Ruby Walsh’s record at one Festival and came within a length and a quarter of getting it in the Gold Cup, as her mount A Plus Tard finished second behind Minella Indo in a 1-2 for her main trainer, Henry de Bromhead. De Bromhead saddled six winners over the week, including a unique treble in the “Holy Trinity” of feature events: the Champion Hurdle, the Champion Chase and the Gold Cup. That he was still beaten to the top trainer prize by Willie Mullins tells the story of an unprecedented week for Irish racing, with 23 of the 28 winners. The memory is still raw for British jumping before a 2022 Festival when a similar humiliation would be unthinkable.

It was a Festival that helped Irish jumping – and the sport as a whole – to move on from a shocking scandal in February, when a photograph emerged on social media showing Gordon Elliott, one of the country’s leading trainers, posing on a dead horse on his gallops. If Blackmore’s victory at Aintree was the defining image of 2021 on the racecourse, then the Elliott photo was the abiding image away from the track. He was banned for six months by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board in early March and lost several stable stars to rival trainers as a result.

Trainer Gordon Elliott was banned for six months after a picture of him sitting on a dead horse was circulated on social media in February. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Images

In July, he parted company with Simon Munir and Isaac Souede after a Panorama investigation reported that their popular chaser, Vyta Du Roc, previously trained by Elliott, had ended his days in a British abattoir.

Cheltenham and Aintree, like every major meeting over the jumps and on the Flat before the middle of May, had unfolded in near-silence in front of empty stands. Crowds were still subject to strict limitations in June, when 4,000 spectators saw Adayar give Charlie Appleby his second Derby winner in four seasons at the start of a long summer of success that would ultimately lead to him being crowned champion trainer on the Flat for the first time. Adayar and Hurricane Lane, Appleby’s St Leger winner, are expected to remain in training to lead his title defence next year.

It was also 4,000 a day at Royal Ascot a few weeks later, with the Queen among the spectators on the final day, to herald an easing of restrictions and a return to full crowds in mid-July.

Quick Guide

Wednesday’s racing tips


12.15 Green Book  12.45 Scene Not Herd 1.15 Miss Fairfax 1.45 Fidelio Vallis  2.15 Dublin Four 2.45 Balco Coastal 3.15 Galante De Romay

12.30 Art Expert  1.00 Queen’s Fair 1.30 Tell’Em Nowt 2.00 Jewel Maker 2.30 Marta Boy 3.00 Invincible Larne 3.30 Porfin 4.05 Monsieur Fantaisie

3.55 I’m Mable 4.30 Scarborough Castle 5.00 Cherokee Dance 5.30 Abnaa 6.00 Chookie Dunedin (nap) 6.30 Naughty Nadine 7.00 Beggarman (nb) 7.30 Patsy Fagan 




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Oisin Murphy, with five winners, was the top rider at the Royal meeting for the first time and went on to edge a nip-and-tuck battle with William Buick for the Flat jockeys’ championship and claim the title for the third year running. Murphy had widely reported problems away from the track, however, including a fracas in a Newmarket pub and two positive tests for excess alcohol, in May and September. Britain’s best Flat jockey relinquished his licence last week to address his issues with alcohol and admitted misleading the British Horseracing Authority over a breach of Covid protocols in September 2020. and He faces a disciplinary hearing in the new year, which could result in a significant ban.

A decision that could potentially have huge significance not only for racing but also many other professional sports arrived on Tuesday, when Freddy Tylicki won his legal case against fellow rider Graham Gibbons over a fall at Kempton in 2016 which left Tylicki confined to a wheelchair. The case, the first involving two jockeys in which the claim has succeeded, raises questions over stewarding, as the incident was deemed accidental at an inquiry on the day.

It could also have implications for the future cost of the indemnity insurance scheme which covers jockeys against such claims. Judgment in the Tylicki case came a few days after another landmark decision – by the BHA’s independent disciplinary panel – that Robbie Dunne subjected his fellow jockey Bryony Frost to a seven-month campaign of bullying and intimidation last year.

Dunne is considering an appeal against his 18-month ban, but Frost, who has spoken of being isolated by her weighing-room colleagues after lodging her complaint, will hope to move on quickly from the most difficult time of her career, perhaps with a second win on Frodon in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day on her CV.

Frodon is the 5-1 third-favourite for Sunday’s race, while Blackmore is likely to ride the second-favourite, Minella Indo. What, you wonder, would Ginger McCain make of that?

Talking Horses on Monday will return on 10 Jan