Whichever side of the fence you sit on where the Grand National is concerned, it’s been hard not to get swept up in the excitement after Irish jockey Rachael Blackmore scooped the big win over the weekend aboard Minella Times, marking the first time a woman has won the race and drawing understandable comparisons with National Velvet. If you follow jump racing on this side of the pond at all, you’ll know that this extraordinary feat is no fluke, either – Rachael was crowned leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival a couple of weeks ago, with a spate of cool-headed, analytical wins for trainer Henry de Bromhead.
In so many ways, racing is lightyears ahead of any of the Olympic disciplines – its financial model is more robust, its workplaces are more regulated, its sponsorship deals cover an enviable array of mainstream brands, and its spectator numbers are dazzling. But in other ways, it lags behind the times in curious ways – and gender equality within the sport is certainly one of them. We’ve become so accustomed to an equal division of the spoils within elite-level eventing that the idea of a female first feels totally implausible – and as Rachael, who’s been asked over and over again about the role her gender plays, and the role she plays to others of her gender, famously quipped after crossing the finish line: “I don’t feel male or female right now. I don’t feel human!”
I say we ought to celebrate Rachael’s accomplishment loudly – not just as a female jockey, though the milestone is an enormously important one, but simply as a jockey. Those who race over fences will spend their lives in pursuit of a win in Aintree’s crown jewel, and most won’t even come close, regardless of their gender. Once again, Rachael has proved that she’s among the finest riders in the world: and that’s a statement that requires no further qualification.
National Holiday: It’s National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day. The highest of holy days.
US Weekend Results:
UK Weekend Results:
Norton Disney (1): [Results]
South of England (1): [Results]
Weston Park: [Results]
Global Eventing Round-Up:
Eventing went truly worldwide over the weekend, with a CCI2*-L held at Miki Horseland Park in Japan, levels from CCI1*-S to CCI3*-S held at South Africa’s Dolcoed Equestrian, and a CCI4*-S on the go at Pompadour in France. The latter continues on today, while the other two don’t appear to have any results online yet, making this the shortest and most useless news story you’ll read all day.
Your Monday Reading List:
Saddle Up and Read‘s extraordinary programme, which provides kids with access to both books and horses, has gone big-time. Check out this article from Vogue (!) on founder Caitlin Gooch and her plans for the future. [Saddle Up and Read Literacy Program Combines Reading and Horseback Riding]
It could become a global hub for Covid-19 – so should the Olympics proceed as planned? Journalist Pippa Cuckson puts the Games under a microscope. [The Mother of All Super-Spreader Events]
Meet Kitty King’s Bramham winner and Europeans mount Vendredi Biats. Known as ‘Froggy’ at home, the mercurial Frenchman makes sure there’s never a dull moment for his support team. [‘He’s very special – but also good at bucking you off’: Kitty King on her championship horse Vendredi Biats]
There’s further feedback available on the new study that shows a significant number of event horses suffer lesions to the mouth in competition. The research breaks down a number of factors, including bit size and shape, and could inform future practice where mouth checks are concerned. [Eventing horses should be monitored for bit-related injuries, say researchers]
And finally, there’s a free webinar on this evening at 7 p.m. EST. Headed by three Olympic team veterinarians, it’ll be jam-packed with tips on how best to care for your competition horse, plus scintillating research on science-driven welfare practices and a live Q&A, too. You can register here.
What I’m Listening To:
I’ve been gobbling up season one of Unobscured while mucking out this week. Aaron Mahnke’s deep-dive into the nitty-gritty of the Salem witch trials might not sound like particularly cheery morning listening, but it’s fascinating stuff, particularly if you, like me, have lost track of the finer points of the story since your school days. It’s also heaving with information I didn’t know at all – for example, that there was a steady stream of refugees (a term I grapple with in this case, admittedly) moving from Maine into Massachusetts in the late 1600s, which played a major part in the unravelling of the already precarious Puritan society. It’s certainly kept me diverted on my trips to the muck heap.
With this much of a focus on racing in today’s news bulletin, it would be remiss of me not to mention the wonderful Thoroughbreds who leave the track in need of support and care. There are a plethora of exceptional charities around the world, which dedicate themselves to providing essential retraining and rehabilitation to off-the-track Thoroughbreds, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll highlight one: Retraining of Racehorses. Britain’s foremost ex-racehorse charity wears a number of hats, from providing lifelines to horses, running competition series nationwide for retrained racers, offering education and support to owners, and spreading the good word of OTTBs. Check them out today, whether you’re keen to make a donation or simply want access to a wealth of useful information for your own journey with an ex-racehorse.
The FutureTrack Follow:
I’m always interested in new models of horse ownership, and the Event Horse Owners’ Syndicate is bringing something that’s been highly successful in the racing world to our sport. EHOS works with a selection of popular top-level riders, including Laura Collett, Ben Hobday, and Emily King, offering annual buy-ins on an exciting horse in each yard with a whole range of perks and benefits. The best bit? You could become a syndicate member for just £65 for the whole season. Here’s to innovation!
Rewatch that history-making Grand National win and channel your inner Rachael Blackmore in your ride today.