The Smile of TriumphSaturday’s historic Grand National win by Rachel Blackmore on Minella Times, making her the first female jockey to win the race since it began in 1839, was thrilling in so many ways.
‘Now girls can dream’ Blackmore said afterwards in one of many press conferences.
But in fact Enid Bagnold, the novelist, had already had that dream, a dream which she wrote about in her 1935 classic novel National Velvet. Nine years later in wartime Hollywood, with palm trees appearing on the imagined Aintree racecourse, MGM turned the book into a hugely successful film, a box office hit that set the then unknown child actress Elizabeth Taylor firmly on the path to stardom. Taylor was a horse mad English child who happened to be living in America at the time. She was little more than ten when she first auditioned for the role and told me, 40 years later, when I was writing the biography of Bagnold, why getting the part had meant so much to her.
I have interviewed Elizabeth Taylor twice and in November 2020, mid lockdown, I was asked by the BBC (with full Covid restrictions in force) about my memories of meeting the iconic actress.
Both my interviews were many years ago, ten years apart, but five minutes with Elizabeth Taylor is something never to be forgotten. I had fifty minutes twice. My reflections will appear, with impeccable BBC timing, this Saturday https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000vc82
Rachel Blackmore’s win is a triumph but it is worth also remembering that sometimes Life imitates Art and Enid Bagnold had imagined just this scenario almost ninety years ago, when no female jockeys were allowed. Another triumph, but of the imagination.