Cheltenham 2019: Blackmore Wins First Festival Prize By 16 Lengths
Ireland's first professional female jumps jockey Rachael Blackmore smashed another ceiling on Tuesday with a sensational first Cheltenham Festival win on A Plus Tard.
Riding for trainer Henry De Bromhead in the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase, she steered the 5/1 favourite to an unchallenged, 16-length win - the biggest winning margin on the opening day of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival.
It was emphatic style for the 27-year-old to break her Cheltenham maiden, and she was equally as cool when trying to digest the landmark achievement, which comes in a season when she is challenging to become the first female jockey ever to be crowned Champion Jockey.
"Cheltenham has its own atmosphere and pressure attached to it," she said, "but Henry said just go out and ride; he kind of left it up to me.
"Very easy instructions, though he was going to be able to blame me if it didn't go right," she joked.
Blackmore had visualised winning a Cheltenham race, of course, but never imagined it would happen in such circumstances.
"To be honest, I was never winning with that margin. It's unbelievable, I'm delighted. I'm just so grateful to get the opportunity to ride a horse like this, to steer him around and steer him up the hill.
"I can't thank Henry De Bromhead enough, he's put a lot of faith in me this week, and I'm glad I could repay him with that win."
A Plus Tard's form had received a timely boost earlier in the day when an Duc Des Genievre, who he had beaten in a beginners' chase, won the Arkle Novices' Chase by a cool 13 lengths.
Finishing second in the Novices' Handicap Chase was Tower Bridge (6/1), with Ben Dundee (33/1) in third and The Russian Doyen (20/1) back in fourth.
Bear Brings Henderson Compensation
Trainer Nicky Henderson suffered disappointment when Buveur D'Air fell in the Champion Hurdle, but was handed compensation Beware The Bear in the Ultima Handicap Chase.
Sent off at 10/1, he held off the fast-finishing Vintage Clouds by a length and a quarter, Henderson having issued his jockey Jerry McGrath some inspired, last-minute riding instructions.
McGrath explained: "Before the race I had it in my head that I was going to do what I did on New Year's Day - pop out, make the running and keep it simple.
"But Mr Henderson said to drop in, creep away and keep him wide. If he had said it to me this morning, I would have spent too much time thinking about it, but the fact he said it to me just before the race meant I just went out and did it."
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He added: "The blinkers made a big difference. Even though we gave away ground on the outside, he jumped and travelled everywhere."
The win was McGrath's second at the Festival, having won the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle for Henderson on Une Artiste seven years ago.
Grand National Plan For Vintage Clouds
Vintage Clouds may have been second in the Ultima Handicap Chase, but trainer Sue Smith is seeking a bigger prize with the 16/1 chance.
"That was a great run by Vintage Clouds. He has just come back from a small wind operation and we're absolutely delighted with him. He jumped great.
"The Grand National at Aintree is now the plan for him and the three-week gap between this are and Liverpool should be ideal. He seems to have taken this race very well and he should be spot on for the Grand National."
Owner Trevor Hemmings also had Lake View Lad in third, and added: "They are two good ones and their main objective is the Grand National. That was just a refresher."
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