Rachael Blackmore lands another big ride with Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris debut
Rachael Blackmore's extraordinary run of big-race success may not be over when the curtain comes down on the major action in Britain and Ireland at Punchestown at the end of the month, with news that she will have a first ride in France's most famous jumps race, the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris, on May 23.
David Cottin has called up Blackmore for the ride aboard Ajas who, along with stablemate Le Berry, will be one of the favourites for the 3m6f Grade 1.
Propelled by a hugely successful Cheltenham and a ground-breaking victory in the Grand National aboard Minella Times, Blackmore's fame has spread around the world.
It was a conversation with the Swedish owner of Ajas, Ulf Sjoberg, which led Cottin to contact Blackmore, who has yet to experience the unique test of Auteuil's chase course.
Cottin said: "Kevin Nabet has decided to ride Le Berry and when I chatted with the owner and he was very keen for Rachael to ride Ajas. She has shown she has huge talent and I don't see any reason why it shouldn't work out.
"Rachael has shown she can adapt to any situation and the same is true of the horse, who is a good jumper and is a very straightforward ride. He is in great form, he has improved with every run this year and I expect him to be in top form on the big day."
Blackmore spent some time riding out for Guillaume Macaire a few summers ago, so the link with Cottin did not come entirely out of the blue.
Cottin said: "We're the same age! I was riding for Guillaume when she came over for a spell and so I met her then. It's a great challenge for her, for the whole yard and for the owner as well."
Cottin is in the envious position of having two genuine contenders for the Grand Steeple-Chase, which is run over two and a half laps of Auteuil's fearsome chase track.
Nabet has stayed loyal with last year's champion four-year-old Le Berry, who will have his final warm up in the Prix Ingre on April 30.
In that respect Blackmore is in the reverse of the situation she found herself in ahead of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, when she was the one with the choice to make between A Plus Tard and Minella Indo.
Ajas has enjoyed an atypical rise through the ranks which included a spell running in Sweden, and spent the winter in Pau before underlining his credentials when winning two of the major trials this spring.
On Saturday the seven-year-old got the better of last year's Grand Steeple hero Docteur De Ballon in the Prix Murat.
"It's a lot of pressure having two leading chances for the Grand Steeple but the horses are running really well at the moment and I hope that continues until May 23," said Cottin, who famously racked up a series of second places in the Grand Steeple-Chase during his storied career but never managed to win one.
Very few jockeys have ridden in the National and the Grand Steeple-Chase in the same year but, should Ajas cross the line in front on May 23, Blackmore would not be the first to complete the double.
Davy Russell came in for the ride aboard Carriacou in 2019 when Jonathan Plouganou was unavailable and triumphed on his very first ride over the Auteuil fences - he had previously been placed in the French Champion Hurdle on Solwhit - just 43 days after claiming a second National success with Tiger Roll.
The Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris is one of only nine Grade 1s over jumps in the French calendar and success for women at the top level has been rare.
Anne-Sophie Madelaine triumphed in the 1997 and 1998 editions of the Grand Prix d'Automne on Mon Romain for Arc-winning trainer Jean Lesbordes, while Lizzie Kelly came agonisingly close when beaten a nose on Aubusson in the 2015 running of the same race.
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