Even before we heard the sound of the Starter’s pistol for the 173rd running of the world’s most famous horse race, the feeling around this year’s National was quite different. The race was back after being cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19, in which a Virtual Grand National, won by Potter’s Corner, took its place. However, with restrictions still in place, the Government decided no fans were allowed to attend Aintree this time around.
The Grand National has a special place in our hearts, and for many people, having a flutter on it is a once-a-year experience. Unfortunately, the traditional trip to the bookies was off, with betting shops still under lockdown. It’s been a tough time for high street bookmakers, particularly independent shops that cannot compete online with the major brands, such as William Hills and Ladbrokes. Although noises were made to move the 2021 Grand National back a week for betting shops to reopen, these were rebuffed and the event went ahead as planned on the 10th of April.
A Moment in History
Despite the trifecta of no betting shops open; no roaring crowds, and no Tiger Roll - the horse that had won in 2018 and 2019 - it was good to have the Grand National back on the sporting calendar.
For a time, it looked set that the 2021 National would be remembered for one - if not all - of the above. However, a certain Rachael Blackmore had other ideas. Blackmore arrived at Aintree fresh off the back of becoming the first-ever female to be top jockey at the Cheltenham Festival, and there was a buzz of excitement in the air as she saddled Minella Times for this year’s showpiece.
To offer some context, Minella Times was a 50/1 outsider in February, but due to Blackmore’s heroics at Cheltenham, the horse was backed all the way down to as low as 9/1 on some betting sites, with the official starting price being 11/1. Many racing pundits felt that the odds were far too short and that Minella Times shouldn’t be in the winner’s conversation.
Yet, Rachael Blackmore had other ideas. The history books were torn up as she became the first female jockey to win the world’s most famous steeplechase. 1977 was the year that females were first allowed to race in the National, with the previous best being Katie Walsh’s third place on Seabass in 2012. Blackmore had rewritten another chapter in horse racing history.
Certainly, her cause was aided when clear favourite - Cloth Cap - pulled up, but that is not to take anything away from this outstanding achievement. Blackmore is now one of jump racing’s superstars and fully deserves all the plaudits that are coming her way. If you missed out on having a flutter on the National, it might be worth putting a pound on her to win this year’s SPOTY award.