Rachael Blackmore says she is delighted to be riding Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Minella Indo in Saturday’s Champion Chase at Down Royal despite having planned to be on board A Plus Tard.
Jack Kennedy rode Minella Indo at Cheltenham, but his trainer boss Gordon Elliott has him partnering Delta Work.
Last season’s King George winner Frodon is also in the Down Royal field, with Bryony Frost again in the saddle.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” said Blackmore, 32, of Saturday’s race.
With Henry de Bromhead’s Gold Cup runner-up A Plus Tard no longer part of the five-strong field in the first Grade One race of the National Hunt season, the trainer’s hopes rest solely on his Cheltenham victor who looks set to be favourite.
“I’m extremely lucky to be associated with Henry’s yard,” added Blackmore, who famously rode De Bromhead’s Minella Times to victory in this year’s Grand National at Aintree.
“He’s got a massive team of good horses down there. I feel very lucky to be in the position I’m in. I’m really looking forward to the season ahead.”
Blackmore back in action after injury
After sustaining a fractured ankle and hip damage in a fall at Killarney in July, Blackmore returned to action last weekend and was back in the winners enclose at Wexford on Monday aboard Eklat De Rire.
“It was great to ride a winner in Wexford and great to be back in time for this great festival here in Down Royal,” added the county Tipperary woman.
With Frost aiming for another Grade One success on Kempton hero Frodon, the race could prove a thrilling all-female jockey battle at the front.
Frost has been in the news in recent weeks after her allegations of harassment and bullying by fellow jockey Robbie Dunne were published in The Sunday Times.
However, Kennedy will hope to upset the form book on board Delta Work after having been denied the ride on Minella Indo.
“Minella Indo gave me the biggest day of my career so far, but that’s racing – and I wish Barry Maloney, Henry, Rachael and the horse all the best,” said Kennedy.
“You never know what might happen in the future – I might get back on him at some point.
“I’m looking forward to getting back on Delta Work and hopefully he’ll be bang there.”
Crowds back at Down Royal
Trainer Ellliott also saddles Galvin, last March’s National Hunt Chase winner at Cheltenham, plus outsider Ravenhill in the field.
The two-day Northern Ireland Festival of Racing sees Down Royal, near Lisburn, hosting full attendances for the first time since the pandemic started and Saturday’s action is sold out.
“We were concerned that maybe people would have forgotten about us but certainly not,” said Down Royal chief executive Emma Meehan.
“They have been waiting in the wings and we are just triumphant, with the level of interest and appetite to return, and we just can’t wait to showcase what we do very well, which is top-quality racing.”