The 2021 Grand National was deprived of spectators but there was no shortage of emotion when Rachael Blackmore triumphed on the 11/1 shot Minella Times for trainer Henry De Bromhead at Aintree on 10th April. Wearing the famous yellow and green-striped colours of JP McManus, Blackmore typically played down the history-making first woman to win angle and said she did not feel male or female or even human after her unprecedented achievement.
De Bromhead also saddled the second-placed 100/1 shot Balko Des Flos ridden by Aidan Coleman. Based in Ireland, De Bromhead looked paler than usual and was shaking his head in disbelief at the result, admitting that the situation was ‘extraordinary’. He appeared to be in shock and paid tribute to his winning jockey ‘they broke the mould when they made her’. Blackmore had already made history a month earlier by becoming the first female to lead the jockeys’ table at the equally unpopulated 2021 Cheltenham Festival.
Only Paul Townend, first jockey for top trainer Willie Mullins, clocked up more wins than Blackmore in the 2020 jumps season in Ireland. Blackmore has brains, immense natural talent, phenomenal determination and a massive work ethic. She was universally praised for giving Minella Times the perfect ride and long ago won the respect of Ruby Walsh, the former top Irish jockey and two-time Grand National winner. Not known for showing emotion, Walsh was at his most animated, shouting her home and punching the air when officially ‘off air’ in his Grand National commentary position.
His sister Katie had posted the best previous effort for a female jockey in the 2012 Grand National when finishing third under Seabass, trained by his father Ted. Ted also saddled Ruby’s first winner Grand National winner, Papillon in 2000. Ted sent out the 2021 Grand National third too, Any Second Now (15/2), owned and bred by McManus in his first colours worn by Mark Walsh.
Any Second Now smashed his way through the tenth fence and was very seriously hampered and lost all momentum when encountering the fallen Double Shuffle (66/1) on landing at the twelfth. He lost his position after the traumatic experience and had to work his way back into the race. He was the biggest hard luck story of the 2021 Grand National and was only beaten eight lengths under Mark Walsh.
Another Irish raider, Burrows Saint (9/1) trained by Willie Mullins and owned by the Riccis took fourth, ridden by the inestimable Patrick Mullins who congratulated Blackmore warmly after her win. They share a house and he used to benefit from her frustration in the early days when she baked for Ireland whilst struggling to get rides.
Unlike Blackmore Mullins was partnering a supposedly proven stayer who won the Irish National run over three miles and five furlongs at Fairyhouse in 2019 when partnered by Ruby Walsh. That distance may well be his limit, Burrows Saint enjoyed a perfect, ground-saving ride under Mullins but ran out of petrol when it mattered. Mullins wrote eloquently about his disappointment when, having travelled like a dream, he felt Burrows Saint suddenly empty under him. He was beaten 27 lengths.
Minella Times had never been tried beyond three miles but kept on well over that distance shortly after Christmas in a Grade B handicap chase at Fairyhouse to finish second under Blackmore. Perhaps that is why the expected money never came for him on the day. This eight-year-old son of Oscar out of an Anshan mare had never raced outside Ireland. The nine-year-old Any Second Now is another son of Oscar suggesting he is a sire that can provide Grand National winners.
Balko Des Flos ran in the three mile, six furlong Cross Country race at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival but blundered and unseated Blackmore half way round when owned by Gigginstown, Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary’s racing operation. He was sold soon afterwards and purchased by RacehorseClub for £110,000. Unlike most horses he immediately delivered a substantial profit for his new connections, receiving £150,000 for finishing second.
After hitting the deck at Cheltenham, choosing to ride the unproven stamina prospect, Minella Times, seemed a sensible decision by Blackmore. The only time he finished without his jockey was on his point-to-point debut when falling at the last.
Farclas (16/1) the former Gordon Elliott trainee starting in the name of Denise ‘Sneezy’ Foster took fifth under Jack Kennedy for Gigginstown. Horses trained in Ireland dominated at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival and it was the same story in the 2021 Grand National. Only one of the first eleven horses to finish was trained in England. Blaklion (50/1) finished sixth under Harry Skelton for his deep-pocketed owner Darren Yates, and his brother and trainer Dan.
What happened to the fancied horses in the 2021 Grand National?
The Jonjo O’Neill trained Cloth Cap was the 11/2 favourite. He had been carefully campaigned to protect his mark and was the most spectacularly well-handicapped horse to line up. He had won his two previous starts, seemingly benefitting from the appliance of cheek pieces. He was ridden prominently by a presumably confident Tom Scudamore but tired and was pulled up close to home, reportedly making a respiratory noise. O’Neill said that his starting price was crazy.
Takingrisks attracted a ton of money late and was sent off at 14/1. He was a 40/1 shot a week before the race. Trained by Nicky Richards, he never looked likely to feature and looked to be struggling when hampered at the 13th under Sean Quinlan. He pulled him up after the 16th.
The Colin Tizzard-trained Mister Malarky was also the subject of a late plunge and started as a 12/1 shot. That confidence proved unfounded after he was hampered at the fourth fence and lost enthusiasm for the task. He never looked to be travelling and was pulled up by Jonjo O’Neill Junior.
The Jessie Harrington-trained mare, Magic Of Light, finished second behind Tiger Roll in the 2019 Grand National. She was fancied by many to put in another good performance, starting at 14/1. Hopes of punters were soon ended when she blundered badly at the fourth fence and catapulted Robbie Power out of the saddle.
The 2021 Grand National result combined with the Cheltenham Festival scoreboard suggests that horses trained in Ireland are the most likely to reward punters with profits.