Black­more com­pletes trio of women in Na­tional rides

Robert Both­way, 80, is pin­ning hopes on tal­ented Mi­lans­bar on Satur­day, writes Mar­cus Army­tage

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - By Mar­cus Army­tage RAC­ING COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Rachael Black­more, one of only three fe­male pro­fes­sional jock­eys in Ire­land, will join Katie Walsh and Bry­ony Frost in Satur­day’s Grand Na­tional af­ter be­ing booked to ride on the Mouse Mor­ris-trained Al­pha Des Obeaux for Michael O’Leary’s Gig­gin­stown Stud.

Black­more, 28, has never been to Ain­tree be­fore let alone rid­den there, but is look­ing for­ward to it.

“I’ll def­i­nitely ask Katie Walsh about rid­ing Ain­tree and all the other ob­vi­ous sources,” she said yes­ter­day. “I haven’t re­ally thought about it yet but I’m just de­lighted to be part of it.”

Black­more, who has rid­den 35 win­ners this sea­son in Ire­land and Bri­tain, rode Al­pha Des Obeaux last time out when he was sixth to Ed­wulf in the Ir­ish Gold Cup at Leopardstown.

The eight-year-old is gen­er­ally a 50-1 shot but the trainer-owner com­bi­na­tion won the Na­tional two years ago with Rule The World. Last year O’Leary boy­cotted the race be­cause he thought the hand­i­cap­per had been too harsh on his horses but the owner is back with a vengeance and ex­pects to have five run­ners. The other four are Tiger Roll, one of the favourites, Thun­der And Roses, Valseur Lido and Road To Riches. A sixth po­ten­tial run­ner, A Ge­nie In Abot­tle, was found dead in his sta­ble on Fri­day morn­ing.

It will be Walsh’s fifth ride in the

Ain­tree de­but: Rachael Black­more (right) will race along with Katie Walsh and Bry­ony Frost

Na­tional and she is still the women who has come clos­est to win­ning, fol­low­ing a third place on Se­abass in 2012. The first fe­male rider to take part was Char­lotte Brew on Barony Fort in 1977 and the last time three fe­male jock­eys lined up in the Na­tional was in 1988 when Vene­tia Wil­liams rode Mar­colo, Penny Ffitch-Heyes rode Het­tinger and Gee Army­tage was on Gee-A.

When Mi­lans­bar lines up in Satur­day’s Ran­dox Health Grand Na­tional, it will be all about his jockey, Bry­ony Frost, bid­ding to be­come the first fe­male rider to win the race, but vic­tory would also be his 80-year-old owner Robert Both­way’s crown­ing achieve­ment for a re­tired Nor­folk farmer and coun­try­man to the core.

Though Nor­folk has a vi­brant point-to-point com­mu­nity – of which Both­way once played a prom­i­nent part – not since his cousin’s fa­ther-in-law owned the 1959 win­ner, Oxo, has it tasted suc­cess in the Ain­tree spec­tac­u­lar. This year, though, the con­nec­tion goes beyond just the owner – Mi­lans­bar was also bred there.

For much of his life un­til he sold all but 100 acres – on which he keeps a herd of red deer – six years ago, Both­way has com­bined farm­ing the land, milk­ing cows and running a flock of sheep with his count­less other pas­sions – train­ing and rid­ing pointto-point­ers, show­ing horses, hunt­ing hounds, train­ing grey­hounds and dab­bling with trot­ting horses.

He has won plough­ing matches, hound shows, grain competitions, the East Anglian Grey­hound Derby at Yar­mouth and in-hand show­ing classes at the Royal Show. On Na­tional Ser­vice in the Royal Horse Ar­tillery, he rode in the Royal Tour­na­ment. He came to race­horse own­er­ship later in life at a stage when it was not so easy to do it him­self – other­wise he would have done it him­self. How­ever, he has also won the High­land Na­tional and War­wick Clas­sic with Mi­lans­bar. As a point-to-point jockey, he rode 58 win­ners in 20 years – no mean feat in the 1950s and 1960s – and once rode in seven races at Hether­set. He had two rides for the Queen Mother on Kingsville Star, fall­ing once and fin­ish­ing sec­ond the other time, and he car­ried the Oxo colours to vic­tory on a horse called Prick­ley Mick.

He even had his own “Foinavon” mo­ment at Marks Tey when rid­ing 50-1 shot Billy Crick. He was go­ing for a clear round when the nine horses in front of him ei­ther fell or were brought down at the third-last. “I found a gap and lobbed over the fence to win,” re­called Both­way.

His sole win­ner un­der Rules was at Fakenham when he had to crash diet to do 11st 10lb. The horse won so eas­ily it could have won with an ex­tra stone, but he felt so bad, he went home to bed in­stead of join­ing the cel­e­bra­tions at which his then-girl­friend met her fu­ture hus­band. “The whole thing was a bit of a dis­as­ter,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.

Both­way’s only ride in the Chel­tenham Fox­hunters was on Polly Flin­ders, trained by Ryan Price, who buried him at the sixth fence. On his feet be­fore the mare, he reck­oned he would never get an­other chance to ride Chel­tenham, so he re­mounted to com­plete the course and re­ceive a big­ger cheer than the win­ner. Of course, they bred them tough in those days. His fa­ther sent him to board­ing school in Dorset to “stop him walk­ing home”, and when he was re­luc­tant to walk on an an­kle he had frac­tured when he fell off a haystack, his fa­ther drove him into the mid­dle of a field, dropped him off there and told him to walk home when he was ready. He was soon ready.

His most painful in­jury was dis­lo­cat­ing his shoul­der. He had to drive to New­mar­ket and back in a lorry be­fore he could go to hos­pi­tal to get it put back in.

Both­way met Mi­lans­bar’s trainer, Neil King, in the hunt­ing field, and his re­la­tion­ship with King is more fa­ther-son than owner-trainer.

“When Neil trained in New­mar­ket, he had an open day at which he tried to sell Mi­lans­bar be­cause his owner­breeder was keen to cut down,” said Both­way.

“Neil rang and said, ‘Jump in the car. I’ve found just the horse for you’. He was like a show horse, full of man­ners and a kind na­ture. He had run in a cou­ple of races for Hen­ri­etta Knight, and his first run for us was at Folke­stone’s last fix­ture.

“AP McCoy was scrub­bing away on some­thing round the last bend while Trevor Whe­lan was mo­tion­less on Mi­lans­bar. He won his first three races for us.”

Now that King trains near Marl­bor­ough, Both­way drives down from Nor­folk once ev­ery three weeks, stays in a pub and, af­ter see­ing Mi­lans­bar out first lot, spends from 9am un­til King calls him in for his sup­per, on a trac­tor; har­row­ing, rolling, mow­ing.

“I do more trac­tor work in Wilt­shire than I do in Nor­folk these days,” said Both­way, point­ing out that last year the gallops were har­rowed and rolled be­fore Chel­tenham, but this time, he has not been able to get on them for the wet.

“I wouldn’t be in the po­si­tion of hav­ing a Na­tional run­ner if it wasn’t for Neil. He rides the horse ev­ery morn­ing, Christ­mas Day in­cluded, and I think Mi­lans­bar and Bry­ony are a mar­riage made in Heaven.” Never too se­ri­ous for too long, Both­way was un­able to re­sist rib­bing his trainer. “Neil wasn’t there for ei­ther of his two best wins,” he said, “so we’re try­ing to leave him at home next Satur­day.”

Grand am­bi­tion: Robert Both­way with jockey Bry­ony Frost and his Na­tional hope Mi­lans­bar; and with trainer Neil King (left)

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