After the virtual event in 2020, it was good to see horses back on the track in 2021, and a great celebration of racing took place at Aintree.
The 2021 Grand National will be remembered for two big news stories. The first is Rachel Blackmore, who became the first-ever female rider to win the race and not only that, but she did it on the back of being top jockey at the Cheltenham Festival a month earlier. The start of 2021 was a huge moment in the career of Blackmore, and she will no doubt have inspired many girls to follow in her footsteps.
Secondly, the race took place without fans in attendance due to restrictions surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic. The one disappointing aspect of Blackmore’s success is that no one was there to cheer her home and into the winner’s enclosure. Minella Times was the horse that Blackmore won the race on, trained by her biggest supporter Henry de Bromhead and owned by JP McManus, one of the biggest owners in racing.
What Happened In The 2021 Grand National?
After a year off in 2020, the Grand National was back for the 173rd time, though the big celebration that many had hoped for was not able to happen due to no crowd in attendance. Despite financial concerns for racecourses and the racing industry as a whole, prize money for the 2021 renewal matched that we saw in 2019, meaning the winner of the race took home £500,000. We saw 40 runners go to post for the race, maintaining the strong field we always have in the National and of those runners, 15 crossed the finishing line at the end.
Minella Times Caps Off Excellent Season For Blackmore
Minella Times was given the perfect ride by Rachel Blackmore, she had the horse in the perfect place throughout and that enabled him to jump perfectly. Held in midfield, to begin with, the eight-year-old made nice progress during the final third of the race, with Blackmore always looking like she had him in the right position and close enough to get involved as the race moved towards the end.
At every possible opportunity, Blackmore gave her horse plenty of time to see the fence ahead, and as others started to struggle with stamina, they began to make their move. With four fences to go, Minella Times was in second and looking good, by the time the leaders had reached the home turn, he was narrowly in the lead.
He was two lengths ahead at the last when the staying on Balko Des Flos made a mistake, leaving Minella Times and Rachel Blackmore to come home and win by six and a half lengths.
First Female Jockey To Win The Race
We have seen many females ride in the race, and some have gone close in the past. However, Rachel Blackmore finally broke the streak in 2021, cementing her place as not only the best female rider we have but potentially the best rider as a whole.
She arrived at the Grand National full of confidence after winning the top jockey award at the Cheltenham Festival just a month earlier. She rode six winners at that meeting, just one short of the all-time record, and as part of her victories, she took both the Champion Hurdle and the Ryanair Chase, two of the biggest races at the festival.
For many years, this Grand National will be remembered for Rachel Blackmore and what she achieved for women in the sport.
A 1-2 Finish For Henry De Bromhead
Not only did trainer Henry de Bromhead have the winner of the race, but he also trained the second home, Balko Des Flos. The 100/1 outsider didn’t enter the race with much hope of getting involved, but the stamina test and uniqueness of the course on offer was enough to catch his attention.
In his three runs prior to the Grand National, Balko Des Flos unseated rider and was beaten by 87 and 50 lengths, so this second-place finish was some performance from the 10-year-old.
Ireland Have The First Five Home
The 2021 renewal was one that Ireland completely dominated. Not only did they have the winner of the race, but they also had the first five home to take the vast majority of the prize money back home with them across the Irish Sea.
On top of that, it was more of the same when you look further down the finishing order. Just one horse out of the first ten home was trained in the UK, and that was Blacklion, who finished sixth for Dan Skelton. A total of 15 horses completed the race, with 12 of those being Irish runners.
Favourite Cloth Cap Pulled Up
The Favourite for the race was Cloth Cap, trained by Jonjo O’Neill. After a hugely impressive win at Kelso after the weights for the race were confirmed, he shot to favouritism and that remained the same on the day.
He was always close to the lead but as Minella Times began to move forward and look the likely winner of the race, Cloth Cap went backwards and struggled to maintain his position. A bad jump four from home saw him stumble, and that really knocked him, and soon after he was quickly pulled up by jockey Tom Scudamore.
Moments Of Note
- Rachel Blackmore became the first female rider to win the Grand National
- No spectators were allowed on course, with strictly only racing professionals allowed due to restrictions on gatherings at the time
- Of the 40 runners in the race, 15 crossed the finishing line to finish the race
- Day one of the Grand National meeting was dedicated to the NHS, who had been saving lives throughout the Covid-19 pandemic
- Prize money across many of the big meetings and festivals was slashed in 2020 and 2021 due to financial uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, but the Grand National was run with the same prize money on offer as we saw in 2019