'A breakthrough moment' - Clare Balding hails Blackmore's National triumph
Clare Balding describes seeing a female rider win Saturday's Grand National as a dream come true and believes only an achievement such as Roger Federer winning Wimbledon and the Olympics is likely to deny Rachael Blackmore the Overseas Sports Personality of the Year award.
Such is the monumental nature of Blackmore's achievements the presenter of the BBC's year-ending sporting celebration is convinced the jockey should make the shortlist whatever happens during the rest of the sporting year.
Balding, who has presented from six Olympics, said of Blackmore's achievements: "It's a bit like Nicola Adams and Katie Taylor winning the first women's boxing gold medals at London 2012. These moments matter. They are the breakthrough moments and they will always matter. It's had a resonance through sport in general but in particular women in sport.
"I've had a lot of inquires as to whether Rachael can be nominated for Sports Personality of the Year. She's not qualified but she certainly will be for Overseas Sports Personality of the Year and if she makes the shortlist for that – and I'd be very confident she will – that goes to a public vote and it would take Roger Federer winning Wimbledon and a gold at the Olympics or Simone Biles breaking all sorts of records at Tokyo to stop her winning it in a landslide.
"It says everything that's the sort of shortlist she's putting herself on. I'm really excited about that and that's the resonance her achievement has. I think being leading jockey at Cheltenham is a much more difficult thing to achieve, but when AP [Tony McCoy] finally won the Grand National and when Frankie [Dettori] finally won the Derby, they were the Olympic gold medal moments and it's the same thing here."
Balding knows the significance of Blackmore's achievements in the eyes of the wider world because it has had a direct impact on her working week.
"I spoke about it on Woman's Hour and I'll be talking about it on The One Show," she said. "I was asked on BBC Breakfast, and that's what I mean, that doesn't happen. I've not presented racing since 2016, but that's the level of interest, all those general interest shows want to talk about Rachael Blackmore. That doesn't happen usually."
Balding is excited by the reach of Blackmore's achievements and the message it sends.
She said: "What's really significant about this is the reach it has outside of the racing community and how much of an impact that makes on people going about their daily lives and saying, 'Wasn't that amazing?' and I think this is just the start because I'd hope in ten years' time we might have ten female jockeys riding in the National. I don't think that's unrealistic.
"To be leading jockey at Cheltenham and then win the Grand National, she's exceptional. I hope what she does is give other female jockeys the chance to be in the game, because not all of them can be as good.
"Not all men can be as good as AP McCoy or Ruby Walsh, but they can make a living. Not every female jockey can be Rachael Blackmore, because she's up there with AP and Ruby, she's outstandingly good, she has a great racing brain.
"Everyone says it proves it's a meritocracy, but it doesn't. It proves she's outstanding and, given the opportunity, she's better than everyone else. The next step is can you just be given the opportunity to be allowed to be mid-division, that's equality. It's the median; when you look down the standings in both jumps and Flat it is still striking how few women are there getting that consistency of opportunity where they have 500 rides a year.
"But one thing that is really positive is Rachael was one of seven female jockeys who rode eight winners between them in Britain on Saturday. It's a real mark of the fact racing has changed a lot in the last five or six years and it's changed because of Hollie Doyle and Rachael Blackmore and what they're doing at the top end.
"I hope it changes people's attitudes. When I was growing up I'd have heard my father say, and it would be typical of a lot of men in racing, that 'they're just not as strong' or 'they can't take the falls'. Now the conversation has changed because of Rachael and Hollie."
It is a moment in which Balding's two passions combined. Born into racing, she has done more than any other sports presenter to further coverage of women's sport, and she added: "On an emotional level I'm just so thrilled for Rachael personally. I've written three children's books about little girls dreaming of achieving in a racing environment but she's doing it for real.
"In all the schools around the country I hope those images of her on all the front pages have got to places where suddenly girls will think 'Wow, I didn't know I could have a career in racing'.
"I was somebody who was an average amateur who got opportunities because my father was a trainer. I've dreamed of the day when a female jockey who is not related to a trainer could go out there and do it, that's the big breakthrough. I hope that gives lots of other women the chance to start off.
"You are only as good as the opportunities you're given. We're not talking about hand-to-hand combat, it's got more in common with motor racing and other equestrian sports, you're only as good as the chances you're given.
"Rachael has earned the right to have fantastic chances. She's the first female jockey to be on the favourite for the Champion Hurdle and Ryanair, to be on one of the leading fancies for the Grand National. It's that consistency of opportunity that men have been given for 200 years.
"On a personal level I'm thrilled for her but I'm also really excited about what it creates. It's about your big owners and trainers and when they ask themselves, 'Who am I going to get to ride my horse in the big race?'. They're not just automatically going for a male jockey."
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