Every now and then, Rachael Blackmore must pinch herself when she looks back on her performances at last year’s Cheltenham Festival. A total of six winners over the meeting’s four days saw her become the first woman to win the Leading Jockey accolade at the Festival, with victories in the Champion Hurdle and Ryanair Chase proving to be the highlight of an incredible purple patch of form.
Prior to the Festival last year, Blackmore was considered a strong contender, but few could have anticipated the success she would ultimately enjoy. You would have got long odds if you’d bet on horse racing exchange for Blackmore to win six races, but she stunned racing fans all over the world and became something of a sporting icon overnight.
Now, all eyes are turning towards Blackmore once again as she seeks to produce yet more heroics at the Cheltenham Festival. The 2022 edition of the event is just a couple of months away, and racing fans all across the country are expecting big things of Blackmore, now that she has proved herself on the biggest stage and in the most prestigious races.
Honeysuckle, last year’s winner of the Champion Hurdle, is heavily favoured to defend the title, and Blackmore will likely be the jockey in the saddle for that one. Trained by Henry de Bromhead, the mare is unbeaten in all her career outings thus far, and it’s hard to see that run of victories coming to an end, even if she will face stiff competition from the likes of Appreciate It, Sharjah and Epatante.
Similarly, Allaho is well fancied to repeat his success in the Ryanair Chase. Blackmore produced a fine display to win the race last year, and the Willie Mullins-trained eight-year-old looks in good nick following a win in the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown back in December. The chasing pack for the 2022 Ryanair Chase, according to the betting market, includes Fakir D’Oudairies, Saint Calvados and Shan Blue.
Of course, the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup will be races that Blackmore will be desperate to add to her CV, having fallen short in both in 2021. She rode the 22/1 shot Notebook to a seventh-placed finish in last year’s Champion Chase, and then failed to get A Plus Tard over the line in first place in the Gold Cup, with stablemate Minella Indo nicking the big one.
Captain Guinness could be Blackmore’s best bet for the 2022 Champion Chase, although the ante-post odds are listing him as a 20/1 shot, so the jockey will have to work to do to overcome some of the favourites in that race, which include Shishkin, Energumene and Chacun Pour Soi.
As for the Gold Cup, Blackmore will view it as one that got away last year, despite her huge haul of wins in other races. A Plus Tard was seen as the most likely horse to topple two-time defending champion Al Boum Photo, but it was Minella Indo and jockey Jack Kennedy who stole the show.
It will be interesting to see whether Blackmore rides A Plus Tard again in the Gold Cup or if she switches to Minella Indo. It’s one of the big decisions facing De Bromhead in the lead-up to the showpiece race, but whoever Blackmore takes the saddle of, you can bet she’ll be doing everything to land the victory.