RACHAEL Blackmore, the first female jockey to win the Aintree Grand National has been crowned The Irish Times Sport Ireland Sportswoman of the Year for 2021.
In what was an outstanding year for sport, but particularly for Irish sportswomen, Blackmore recorded several historic firsts over a three-week period.
In April she steered home 11/1 chance Minella Times to win the world’s most famous steeplechase by six and a half lengths, the first woman to do so in the race’s 172-year history.
Due to Covid, there were no spectators present to witness Blackmore’s historic victory but at the time she told a TV audience of millions: “I don’t feel male or female right now. I don’t even feel human.” Just a few weeks earlier the 32-year-old had become the first female jockey to claim the leading jockey title at Cheltenham as well as the first woman to win the Champion Hurdle, this time on board Honeysuckle, with whom she has established a winning partnership.
Accepting the award in person at the ceremony in Dublin, which was streamed online, Blackmore described winning the award as being really special.
“It’s been such an incredible year for sport and particularly for women in sport. To be nominated is fantastic but to win an award like this, it’s so special, it really is. When you look at the people you are up against and their achievements. It’s hard to comprehend that you’ve come out on top of that, it’s unbelievable.”
After a bad fall in July at Killarney, Blackmore was out injured for three months. She told awards presenter Des Cahill and Minister of State for Sport Jack Chambers, that injuries were part and parcel of jump racing.
“I broke my ankle and my hip on opposite legs, which made it a bit more challenging at the start for sure but that’s the life of a jump jockey and there’s no jump jockey out there who thinks they aren’t going to get injured. That’s probably the only guarantee we have – and you know you’re just hoping it’s never too serious. And look I’m back now, that’s the main thing.”
This year’s Outstanding Achievement Award went to Team Ireland medallists Tokyo 2020, the nine women who performed superbly at the Olympic and Paralympic Games, winning seven medals in total.
The nine include Kellie Harrington, who became only the second Irish woman to win a gold medal in boxing, Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty, who won bronze in rowing, the first Irish women to win a team Olympic medal, Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal, who won two gold and one silver Paralympic medals in track and road cycling and swimmers Ellen Keane and Nicole Turner, who won gold and silver medals respectively at the Paralympics.
The trophy was accepted on behalf of Team Ireland medallists Tokyo 2020 by Eimear Lambe and Ellen Keane at the online awards ceremony.