Snow Leopardess bids to be 1st mother to win Grand National

The Queen of Aintree is facing competition for that status at the Grand National on Saturday.

Rachael Blackmore broke down one of the biggest gender barriers in British sports last year by becoming the first female jockey to win the famous and grueling horse race.

Blackmore is returning for a shot at another win at the National — she’ll again be aboard 2021 winner Minella Times — but there’s another remarkable storyline this year, also involving a female seeking rare success in the race’s male-dominated environment.

Snow Leopardess is the pre-race favorite with some bookmakers at 7-1, quite the feat given she’s looking to become the first mare to win the National since 1951. More than that, she could be the first mother to win the race, having had a foal, Red Panda, in 2019.

Never before has a mare even competed in the National after giving birth, so it’s a bold decision for owner Marietta Fox-Pitt to place the 10-year-old Snow Leopardess in such a challenging race.

“Marietta said, ‘Having children didn’t break my stride, so I don’t see why it should with her,’” said Alice Plunkett, a TV presenter and the daughter-in-law of Fox-Pitt.

It’s quite a back-story for Snow Leopardess, a gray who was given that name by Fox-Pitt after she watched a movie featuring a snow leopard.

Snow Leopardess gave birth while she was out of action for two years with a leg injury sustained in a lorry while being transported back from a race she won in France in 2017. She had only raced over hurdles at that point, and is competing in the National in just her second season over the larger fences.

It will be only her 20th race, having been out because of her injury — and after becoming a mother — for almost 800 days.

It’s a story that has captured the imagination of racegoers and will likely be attractive to the casual bettor in Britain who only puts on a bet when the National comes around.

“This year we think Snow Leopardess will be the public horse,” said Nicola McGeady of one of Britain’s leading bookmakers, Ladbrokes. “Ticking boxes such as being gray, a mare, having a good name, along with a heart-warming tale to boot.”

Snow Leopardess would become the fourth gray horse to win the race — after The Lamb (in 1868 and 1871), Nicolaus Silver (in 1961) and Neptune Collonges (in 2012) — and she has recent pedigree over the Grand National fences in one of her three victories this season.

In December, she held on grimly to win the Becher Chase on the same Aintree course and in the kind of filthy conditions she’ll want to see a repeat of on Saturday.

“For sure we’ll need some rain,” Plunkett said, “but she travels in a lovely rhythm, so you wouldn’t want to get her out of that. She’s very comfortable travelling at a very good speed.”

Blackmore was already a highly respected jockey in racing circles but last year’s win gave her global acclaim, given she was only the 20th female jockey to compete in a race. Women have only been allowed to enter the National as jockeys since 1975.

“I don’t feel male or female right now — I don’t even feel human,” was the first comment Blackmore came out with after crossing the line, but winning the biggest races is something she is getting used to.

Almost as big as her National success on Minella Times was the victory aboard A Plus Tard in last month’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, the elite race for steeplechasers in Britain. No female jockey had previously won that, either.

Blackmore has stayed loyal to Minella Times for the National, but faces a tougher ask to lead him around the 4 1/4 miles (6.4 kilometers) course — and over the 30 fences — given he’ll carry a larger weight this year as a handicap.

“He really enjoyed it last year, he took to the fences really well,” Blackmore said of Minella Times. “As a jockey, jumping those fences on a horse that’s really enjoying it is a great feeling.

“Tiger Roll won it back-to-back (in 2018-19), so you never know.”

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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80

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