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Rachael Blackmore’s Grand National victory resonates around the world

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Within minutes of Rachael Blackmore passing the Randox Grand National winning post first on Minella Times, Ringo Starr had tweeted “Well Done Rachel.”

Ringo inadvertently dropped the ‘a’ from the Irishwoman’s name. But a ‘v’ for victory from a Beatle indicates the sweeping impact of Saturday’s epic success around the world.

An estimated global TV audience of 600 million watched the first woman to ride the winner of racing’s most famous and gruelling contest.

An accomplishment that not so long ago might have seemed as fantastic as the plot to the 1944 movie ‘National Velvet’ has seen the 31-year-old rider from Co Tipperary capture the public imagination.

Like ‘Frankie’ or ‘Ruby,’ or maybe even ‘Lester’ to an older generation, she has become a racing figure whose forename is recognition enough.

For a sport that only weeks ago was battling the reputational damage from the Gordon Elliott ‘photo’ controversy, Blackmore’s pioneering exploits have proved a godsend.

Rachael Blackmore on Grand National winner Minella Times. Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA
Rachael Blackmore on Grand National winner Minella Times. Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA

Even bookmakers paying out on Minella Times’ hugely popular 11-1 success admitted they were doing so with a smile since the story is worth its weight in gold to racing.

An Taoiseach Micheál Martin described Saturday’s win as “a truly amazing achievement.” President Michael D Higgins called it “historic.”

The long-term impact of Blackmore’s accomplishment will resonate with countless others and reverberate throughout sport for years to come. But an immediate outcome is to make any gender debate within racing redundant.

Unlike other sports in racing no allowances have ever been made for sex.

Considering it is less than 50 years since women were allowed ride in races in Ireland there had once been a valid case to be made for the introduction of measures simply to encourage more opportunities for female jockeys.

However Blackmore, just the second woman ever to turn professional in Ireland, has transformed the face of the sport forever.

Only 20 women have ridden in the biggest and most high profile race of all since Charlotte Brew was the first to ride in the Grand National in 1977.

That year memorably saw Red Rum win for the third time. Saturday’s outcome bears comparison with any National result in its 173 history.

The woman at the centre of it all seemed more overwhelmed than anyone, struggling to come to terms with the significance of what she’d done.

“I can’t believe I’m Rachael Blackmore – I can’t believe I’m me!” she said. “This race is the one that catches every young person with a pony’s imagination. It’s just phenomenal. To actually fulfil something like this is unbelievable.”

Blackmore’s achievement prevented the scale of Henry De Bromhead’s own exploits from being centre-stage although, like at Cheltenham, the Co Waterford trainer was happy to concede the spotlight to his jockey.

“I’m absolutely delighted for Rachael. It’s brilliant for her and no one deserves it more,” he said on Sunday having travelled back from Liverpool with the 28th Irish trained Grand National winner.

Rachael Blackmore celebrates with the trophy after winning the Grand National. Photograph: Tim Goode/PA
Rachael Blackmore celebrates with the trophy after winning the Grand National. Photograph: Tim Goode/PA

That Minella Times was accompanied by his stable companion and runner up, Balko Des Flos, underlined De Bromhead’s superb achievement.

It added to his ‘Holy Trinity’ hat-trick of the three main races at last month’s Cheltenham festival and completed a ‘Grand Slam’ of jump racing’s biggest prizes.

Saturday’s race also saw an unprecedented level of Irish dominance generally in the National. Only Blaklion in sixth interrupted an otherwise all-Irish list of the top 11 finishers.

It continued a miserable run for British trained hopes in the big festivals although there was unanimity that this was a National result that was good for racing everywhere.

“It’s a brilliant thing for horseracing that she’s won. She’s an amazing rider and she proved that at Cheltenham. To win the biggest horse race in the world is great for her but it’s brilliant for the sport as well.

“It gives any young girl hope of winning the biggest race in the world and winning any race for that matter. She can do it all,” said the most successful jockey of all, Tony McCoy.

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Courts Service contradicts Garda declaration journalists were barred from court

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The Courts Service has openly contradicted An Garda Síochána’s declaration that journalists were barred from a court sitting in Waterford earlier this month on the orders of a district justice.

Former Fianna Fáil election candidate Kieran Hartley appeared before Judge Brian O’Shea at Dungarvan District Court on October 13th on a Section 6 public order charge for allegedly committing an offence against a family member of a local garda.

Journalists Eoghan Dalton and Christy Parker were barred for more than three hours from entering the court chamber by two gardaí, who said they had been told the judge had directed that no press be allowed in.

The decision to bar the press – the second time that this has happened to a court hearing where Judge O’Shea was sitting following an incident at a Dublin hearing in 2017 – has now been raised with Garda management.

During exchanges with the reporters, who questioned the decision, one garda said “no one is allowed in this morning”, and while they “honestly” did not “know any details of it” they had been “directed by the court to not allow anyone into it”.

The Garda Press Office later that day insisted “the presiding judge had directed that the court be cleared of persons not involved in the case” as a “voir dire” was in operation.

A voir dire normally occurs when a judge seeks to determine an issue in the course of a trial rather than in advance of one, and very rarely applies at District Court level. Journalists may witness proceedings but not report the details.

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Questioned later, however, the press office said: “The court garda cleared the court as requested by the judge”, and that “it is understood that members of the media who so arrived after that point were inadvertently prevented from accessing the courtroom”.

The Courts Service on Friday said: “At no stage did Judge O’Shea or Courts Service officials issue a direction that the case should be held otherwise than in public”.

“The court sitting at Dungarvan District Court on Wednesday, October 13th, was a public hearing. It involved the hearing of certain arguments in a case, before the ‘substantive’ matter might be heard at another time,” the spokesman said.

“In the absence of an order the law requires that the proceedings take place in public: we are committed to that principle. The alleged actions of gardaí in not allowing access to some media is a matter for Garda management.

“These issues have been raised with Garda management,” said the Courts Service, which is understood to have checked its own records carefully ahead of making its public statement.

When the case came to court on September 22nd, solicitor Paddy Gordon, acting for defence solicitor Frank Buttimer, questioned the legitimacy of statements presented by An Garda Síochána. Mr Gordon claimed they were “not our statements and we want them examined forensically”.

Deferring the matter to the October 13th sitting of Dungarvan District Court, Judge O’Shea instructed that investigating Garda Tom Daly be present, along with his notebook and all original statements.

The judge also asked that Tramore District Superintendent Paul O’Driscoll attend the hearing, which would commence at 10am prior to the main court business.

Candidate

Mr Hartley unsuccessfully contested the 2014 European elections as Fianna Fáil’s Ireland South candidate. He resigned from the party acrimoniously in 2018 following his criticism of its handling of matters related to convicted paedophile Bill Kenneally, whose cousin Brendan was a former Fianna Fáil junior minister.

Judge O’Shea did not issue a written verdict on the present case against Mr Hartley, but it is understood the Garda testaments will stand as presented when it is heard.

Mr Buttimer said he was “not in a position to comment at present”.

Sinn Féin’s justice spokesman Martin Kenny said it was “highly unusual” and that he would be writing to Garda headquarters seeking an explanation. “Justice has to be seen to be done as well as being done, and I find it quite alarming that we’d be in this situation.”

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Darlington is cheapest for homes, London’s Kensington most expensive

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We all know about the North-South divide. We all know about the Prime Minister’s attempt at ‘levelling up’. We all know about the crumbling Red Wall.

But when it comes to property, the facts of the matter tell their own story. According to Churchill Home Insurance, Darlington in County Durham is the cheapest place to buy a property in the country, at just £58 per square foot.

Which is staggering when you compare it to the most expensive — Kensington in central London, where the average price per square foot stands at £1,721. 

Imposing: The Clock Tower in Darlington, County Durham - the cheapest place to buy a property in the country, at just £58 per square foot

Imposing: The Clock Tower in Darlington, County Durham – the cheapest place to buy a property in the country, at just £58 per square foot

Music giants Robbie Williams and Eric Clapton have homes in this exclusive royal borough home, as do entrepreneurs Sir Richard Branson and Sir James Dyson.

But here’s the twist: anyone looking to take advantage of Darlington’s prices might have to move fast because there are plans to turn this market town into the hottest property in the north.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is opening up a smart new division of the Treasury there over the next five years, moving about a quarter of the department. 

That’s about 400 people, many of whom will be local recruits. ‘We’re giving talented people in the North-East the opportunity to work in the heart of Government, making decisions on important issues for our country,’ explains Sunak.

So what are the draws of these polar-opposite locations?

Kensington is one of the crown jewels of London neighbourhoods featuring not just top museums but also a host of chic cafes, boutique shops, and even Kensington Palace, where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge live with their children.

There are three Zone 1 underground stations and several independent schools, and you’re a stroll away from the West End. 

Upmarket: A terrace in Kensington, London, where the average price per square foot stands at £1,721

Upmarket: A terrace in Kensington, London, where the average price per square foot stands at £1,721

Top restaurants include Daphne’s and Launceston Place — both favourites of the late Princess Diana — and the iconic Bibendum with two Michelin stars.

There’s no surprises when it comes to property values in this area; they’re stellar. The cheapest property in Kensington for sale on Rightmove in the middle of October was priced at £40,000 and that was just a space in a car park. 

The most expensive listing, by contrast, was a seven- bedroom semi, with an eye-watering asking price of £30 million.

Of just over 510 property sales in the past year, the average price was a slightly more modest £2,169,235, according to Zoopla, but that’s after prices took a 4 per cent knock as fewer people bought in London during the pandemic.

It’s a different story in Darlington, which has a modest average property price of £172,724, according to Zoopla. 

But things are changing; there have been more than 1,600 property sales in the past 12 months and prices have gently risen 4.5 per cent. The most expensive home on sale is a four-bedroom detached house with grounds, for £700,000.

However that’s still an exception, with many more at the other end of the scale, where there are several two-bedroom terrace houses for sale at £45,000.

If you’re moving in, bone up on railway history — the world’s first steam train service began here almost 200 years ago. 

Otherwise, look out for a twice-weekly street market, the revamped Hippodrome theatre and the odd tribute to comic Vic Reeves and businessman Duncan Bannatyne, both brought up in the town.

Darlington is brimming with well-preserved Victorian buildings while you can stroll in the beautiful South Park. If you’re after the best of local food, the two-Michelin starred Raby Hunt Restaurant is the place to go.

The town has the buzz of a place on the move — there are modernisations under way at both the railway station (2 ½ hours to London, 30 minutes to Newcastle) and the indoor market.

Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak’s Treasury initiative is already putting Darlington on the map. ‘I know of several people from London who have moved here thanks to working remotely,’ says estate agent Henry Carver of Carver Residential. 

On the market: North-South divide 

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Facebook admits high-profile users are treated differently

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Facebook’s oversight board said the social media company hadn’t been “fully forthcoming” about internal rules that allowed some high-profile users to be exempt from content restrictions and said it will make recommendations on how to change the system.

In the first of its quarterly transparency reports published Thursday, the board said that on some occasions, Facebook “failed to provide relevant information to the board,” and in other instances the information it did provide was incomplete.

For example, when Facebook referred the case involving former US president Donald Trump to the board, it didn’t mention its internal “cross-check system” that allowed for a different set of rules for high-profile users.

Facebook only mentioned cross-check, or XCheck, to the board when asked whether Trump’s page or account had been subject to ordinary content moderation processes.

The cross-check system was disclosed in recent reporting by the Wall Street Journal, based in part on documents from a whistle-blower.

The journal described how the cross-check system, originally intended to be a quality-control measure for a select few high-profile users and designed to avoid public relations backlash over famous people who mistakenly have their posts taken down, had ballooned to include millions of accounts.

The oversight board said it will undertake a review of the cross-check system and make suggestions on how to improve it.

As part of the process, Facebook has agreed to share with the board relevant documents about the cross-check system as reported in the Wall Street Journal. – Bloomberg

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