Grand National history for Rachael Blackmore and Minella Times

RACHAEL Blackmore made Randox Grand National history by winning the world’s greatest steeplechase on Minella Times.

Rachael Blackmore and Minella times after making Randox Grand National history.

She became the first female rider to win the marathon and continues her domination of the 2020-21 National Hunt season after being the Cheltenham Festival’s leading rider last month.

“I don’t feel male or female right now. I don’t even feel human,” she said in the immediate aftermath.

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Owned by JP McManus and trained in Ireland by Henry de Bromhead, this was another Irish clean sweep with the winner’s stablemate Balko Des Flos second. Any Second Now and the tiring Burrows Saint were third and fourth.

This was Rachael Blackmore and Minella Times making Randox Grand National history.

Denise Foster’s Farclas was fifth with the veteran Blaklion sixth - the best of the British, at 50-1, for Dan and Harry Skelton.

A fast-run race saw Jett enjoy a commanding lead on the second circuit, pursued by the well-backed favourite Cloth Cap who would tire and be pulled up.

Yorkshire’s Definitly Red was also pulled up after never getting into contention as Blackmore bided her time on Minella Times before surging clear at the second last.

There were joyous scenes amongst the stable staff from Ireland as the modest Blackmore crossed the line in a moment of history 44 years after Charlotte Brew became the first female rider to compete in the National.

There was a two minutes' silence in memory of Prince Philip before the first race on Randox Grand National day.

“Thank you,” she told The Yorkshire Post as she rode Minella Times back into the winners’ enclosure to the strains of Champions - the musical accompaniment to cancer conqueror Bob Champion’s own momentous win 40 years ago.

Later, she said: “I just cannot believe it. He was an absolutely sensational spin.

“What Henry de Bromhead does with these horses, I don’t know! I’m so lucky to be riding them, I just cannot believe I’m after winning the Grand National. This is unbelievable.”

Blackmore was full of praise for Minella Times, one of seven horses in the race owned by JP McManus - among them Any Second Now.

Shishkin and Nico de Boinville completed the Cheltenham-Aintree double by landing the Grade One novice chase on Randox Grand National day.

Blackmore added: “He was just incredible, he jumped beautifully.

“I was trying to wait for as long as I could - when we jumped the last and I asked him for a bit, he was there. It’s just incredible.

“I don’t feel male or female right now - I don’t even feel human. This is just unbelievable.”

This was the first National since its inception in 1839 without crowds - and the first renewal for two years after Covid forced the cancellation of the 2020 race.

Randox Grand National day began under cloudless blue skies with news that 2013-winning rider Ryan Mania would replace Henry Brooke on Definitly Red for Malton trainer Brian Ellison.

Brooke appeared to be concussed by a fall at Sedgefield on Friday and didn’t feel well enough to drive to Merseyside on raceday.

There was great poignancy when former Aintree chairman Rose Paterson, who took her own life last year, was inducted into the Grand National hall of fame.

Her visibly emotional husband Owen Paterson, the senior Tory MP and former Cabinet minister, was joined by his family for the ceremony.

He also announced £100,000 has been raised for the Rose Paterson Trust which will campaign on the issue of suicide prevention and support charities in the wider mental health sphere.

If it saves one family suffering the agony and trauma that he, and his children, are enduring, it will have been worth it.

There were sombre scenes before the opening race when Aintree fell silent for two minutes to remember Prince Philip, 99, who died yesterday.

The only sound, as the racecourse sent “loving sympathy” to the Queen and Royal family, were the horses being led round the paddock. It ended with a bell tolling and jockeys, who had bowed their heads in silence and were sporting black armbands as a mark of respect,, being asked to get mounted.

As Hometown Boy survived a final flight blunder to take the first race, Ciaran Gethings doing well to stay in the saddle, Tom Scudamore, the jockey of National favourite Cloth Cap, was completing his walk of the iconic Merseyside track before the big race.

A study of concentration, he was leaving nothing to chance as he checked every blade of the good to soft ground.

Meanwhile, in the press room, Simon Holt and Ian Bartlett, two of the big race commentators, shared anecdotes as they counted down the hours, and minutes, to their most difficult assignment of the year - the 40-runner National.

Yet, while there were no crowds for the first time in the race’s history, owners and connections of competing horses tried to create an atmosphere as bookmakers reported online bets worth over £100m for the National.

There was an emphatic winner of the Grade One Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle when Mr Drogo surged clear for Dan Skelton and his brother Harry. Just as significantly, the latter now trails champion jockey Brian Hughes by just two winners in this season’s pulsating title race with a fortnight to go.

The second Grade One saw jump racing’s new superstar Shishkin, a winner at Doncaster earlier in the season, complete the Cheltenham-Aintree double by adding the Doom Bar Maghull Novices’ Chase to the Arkle Trophy.

Nico de Boinville’s mount took the lead at the difficult downhill fifth fence, and while not at his scintillating best, the appreciative applause from all those lucky enough to be on the course was indicative of their appreciation for Nicky Henderson’s chaser.

Shishkin is now the clear favourite for next year’s Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

Meanwhile the third and final Grade One saw the Philip Hobbs-trained Thyme Hill get up on the line under an inspired Tom O’Brien to deny Roksana and the Skeltons with the ever popular Paisley Park, the 2019 Stayers’ Hurdle winner, disappointed and ultimately pulled by Aidan Coleman.

A pulsating finish, it was the type of race that would have been greeted by deafening noise from 60,000 raucous spectators on a normal National day.

Still there’s always next year - and at least the world’s most famous steeplechase was able to take place.