ALL WRAPPED UP John, Emma, Sinéad, Lauren, and Chloe Stagg, Hollymount, were supporting the Mayo ladies in Ballina. Pic: Michael Donnelly
AS Minella Times jumped the final fence in Saturday’s Grand National, the Stagg household in Hollymount erupted in delight. The famous horse and his jockey Rachael Blackmore were destined for glory and the Staggs could hardly control themselves.
The sports-mad clan might be closely associated with daring deeds on the Gaelic football pitches of Mayo and Ireland, but there’s also an inherited love of horse-racing, which burns brightly in their South Mayo homestead.
Former Hollymount forward, Mayo Ladies selector and current manager of Lahardane MacHale’s, John Stagg, was a happy man as Blackmore wrote her name into history as the first female jockey to win the famous race.
“She’s a superstar, an inspiration and a complete lady,” he told The Mayo News.
“I had the pleasure of schooling horses with her in ‘Shark’ Hanlon’s yard in Carlow a few years ago and I can’t say enough good things about her.”
John’s meeting with the future Grand National winner occurred when he was preparing to ride in a charity race in Punchestown in 2018. The preparation was tougher than John expected as he had been an amateur jockey in his youth, but a heavy fall in Ballinrobe leading up to the charity event brought him back to earth in more ways than one.
“It was only then I realised what a savagely tough sport horse racing is. When I used to fall off as a young fella I bounced up again, but twenty years later the bounce had left me!”
That tumble sent him looking for a more accommodating mount for the charity event and to Hanlon’s yard.
“We were riding out the first morning and the jockey next to me said ‘that’s Rachael Blackmore beside us.’
“She was truly lovely - just shooting the breeze with us and having the craic. Then, on the day of my event, she won the race beforehand and came back in. I knew she had ridden my horse, ‘Rare Legend’ before so I tapped her on the shoulder looking for a bit of advice.
“She could have just blanked this ‘doo-dah’ from Hollymount, but she sat down and gave me great advice. Unfortunately, I didn’t take the advice, but that wasn’t her fault - it was pilot-error,” John concluded with a smile.