It’s the place for a fairytale, as we saw once again, but it’s also the place that will bring you crashing back down to earth.
Rachael Blackmore didn’t need to be told that before she got the leg up in her attempt to make history once more but there was a bumpy reminder for her in the latest running of the Randox Grand National, the kind that was met with muffled groans across Aintree.
With all due respect to the connections of Noble Yeats, the gelding that propelled Sam Waley-Cohen into retirement in a scarcely believable manner, the success that many craved was Blackmore to repeat last year’s triumph on Minella Times.
Before the Grand National began, there was a great deal of excitement around Rachael Blackmore and Minella Times
The last 12 months have seen the 32-year-old Blackmore’s world turned upside down
The past 12 months have turned her world upside down and, to understand how, you only had to follow her through the hubbub of the 27 minutes that eventually led to the tapes going up on this wonderful event.
Blackmore was first out the weighing room at 452pm, leading the 39 other riders onto a podium for a traditional pre-race photograph. Those crowded around the parade ring pulled out their mobile phones to take a picture, cries of ‘Go on Rachael!’ were squawked out by men and women alike.
From there, she joined the four other riders – Sean Flanagan (School Boy Hours), Mark Walsh (Any Second Now, the favourite), Conor Orr (Enjoy d’Allen) and Luke Dempsey (Anibale Fly) – who would wear the distinctive green-and-gold colours of JP McManus.
They had gathered to talk with Charlie Swan and Frank Berry, two of McManus’s most trusted aides, but soon Blackmore was being pulled to one side – someone else wanted a pre-race audience: it was Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.
Photographs, instructions, a Royal audience: all in the space of four minutes. No sooner had the 32-year-old got back to her spot, she found herself being asked for an interview with ITV. She politely declined, wanting to concentrate on the job hand.
Soon, McManus, the Irish billionaire, arrived in the parade ring with his wife, Noreen. Blackmore was greeted a kiss on the cheek and warm smile from the 71-year-old, who had earlier seen Gentlemen De Mee and Sire Du Berlais give him a high-class Grade One double.
It had been an incredible week for McManus, with Epatante, Jonbon and Fakir D’Oudairies also landing Grade One prizes, but you sensed Minella Times, emulating Tiger Roll and becoming a dual-winner of the National would have meant the world.
‘God bless her, Rachael is wonderful,’ McManus has told this correspondent on Friday. ‘Just to see her back, riding in front of the crowds, is something special.’
McManus spent 10 minutes speaking to Blackmore and Henry De Bromhead, the trainer with whom she has such a potent relationship, to the exclusion of the others. It was not hard to see that a bold show was expected and Minella Times looked beautiful, his bay coat gleaming in the sun.
After more yelps of ‘Go on Rachael!’ – she was cheered all the way down the walkway to the track – it was time for business and she galloped to post alongside Escaria Ten and Noble Yeats. When the tapes were raised, the pair got into a nice rhythm but, in the blink of eye, it was all over.
‘He just jumped into the back of one at the ninth and fell,’ Blackmore later explained.
Blackmore and Minella Times’ race was over after falling at the ninth jump at Aintree
Fortunately both horse and rider were fine but it was a disappointing day for Blackmore
Thankfully, Minella Times made his own way home and was collected after running towards the stands and De Bromhead was happy to confirm he was safe and well. Regrettably, the same could not be said for Discorama, who was fatally injured.
Blackmore was phlegmatic as her and De Bromhead debriefed on the course, watching replays of the finish on the big screen as they spoke. She slipped away quietly, without any fuss, just as she likes it. You could not help feel, however, a sense of regret.
To hear the noise and see the colour of the racecourse alive, it was hard not to think what reception Blackmore would have got 12 months ago when bounding into legend. We must hope there will be another chance in the future.