Ok so she didn’t make it two years in a row at the Grand National but that still doesn’t take away from what has been an amazing 12 months for Rachael Blackmore.
Her Gold Cup win at Cheltenham unsurprisingly made headline news, turning the public’s attention away from recent scandals and allegations of bullying in the world of horseracing and making us focus on the success of a female in a typically male environment. Racing fans must be delighted.
But apart from a bit of positive PR, what impact will Rachael’s wins actually have on attracting more women into the sport?
Let’s start with viewing figures. This year’s Grand National attracted a peak audience of 7.5 million people which was down on the 8.8 million who watched Blackmore’s win in 2021. However, the audience share was higher this year, 39% compared to 32% last year.
While it’s a downward trend for the Grand National’s viewing figures, the racing audience for the Cheltenham Festival was the ‘highest for over ten years’. ITV reported 1.6 million people watched Rachael’s win which equated to a 19% audience share. The race was also broadcast in the US for the first time. However there is no breakdown of the demographics of those viewers. With the same number of people watching Tiger Roll’s last race in the Cross Country Chase, it could just be that racing overall has become more popular, rather than it having anything to do with a female jockey.
The good thing is Blackmore’s win was described as making history and got widespread pick-up across the media. Research from the Women’s Sport Trust in 2021 showed that Rachael received a total of 36 mentions on UK TV news outlets in the week following the Cheltenham Gold Cup race (19/03-26/03), 9 more than Jack Kennedy, despite him being the winning Gold Cup jockey. It also shows that after her Grand National win, she got more mentions in the news for that win than Kennedy got for his Gold Cup win (47 mentions vs 27 mentions).
If we focus on Cheltenham, this year was the first time Boodles sponsored the Gold Cup. They’re not new to the world of horseracing, having been a sponsor of Cheltenham since 2014. But they must have jumped for joy when she won. However apart from an image from before the event, I haven’t seen anything else from Boodles which feels like a missed opportunity.
(Image courtesy of Boodles)
PaddyPower, another sponsor, referenced Rachael in their pre-Cheltenham video they shared on their social channels and then again after her win, as a response to GB News announcing her as their favourite Briton. It would have been nice to see them do something else as a response to this historic win.
(Image courtesy of Talksport)
According to GB Racing, wins by female jockeys increased by 76% between 2015 and 2019 and women now make up almost a quarter of all riders across flat and jump racing. So we know that more women are competing and winning.
Lucy Turner, who won the Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Chase on Venetia Williams’ horse Chambard, has said she’s been inspired to turn professional by Rachael’s feats.
It’s not just about the jockeys. Trainer Venetia Williams has, according to reports, had her best season for years. Then there are organisations like Women in Racing which exist to develop the profile of women across the horse racing industry, including media, training yards and associated sectors.
Going forward, I think more brands will be looking at horse racing now as a partnership opportunity, I believe more girls will see being a jockey as a potential professional career option and I hope more women will watch it on TV and engage with those female jockeys to help grow their profiles.
It’s worth remembering that women have only been allowed to ride professionally in the last 50 years. I hope it won’t be another 50 years until we have another female winner at the Grand National or Gold Cup.
Image courtesy of Charlie Boss on LinkedIn