Gallop to Goodwood: Off to the British Racing School

    14 July 2016

    I know, I know, I’ve already moaned enough about being up at 5am on a bank holiday Monday. But even worse was the second May bank holiday… because this weekend was make-or-break time. Instead of taking the Friday off to enjoy an extra-long weekend, I was instead heading up to Newmarket to the British Racing School. This was the day I’d spent the last two months ‘planking’ in preparation for: my fitness and riding, which I’d have to pass to be deemed safe to ride.

    Perhaps I don’t need to point out that I was fairly nervous. I know that lots of people think that a jockey just sits there and the horse does all the work – and I wish that was the case. In reality, the fitness test in order to qualify, even as a charity rider, is pretty tough. First up is the dreaded bleep test. A ‘poor’ mark – enough to pass for a charity assessment, but only just, is a level 9. For the police, a pass is level 5.4. A female army officer, level 8.1. So a nice easy starting point. Then other fun things like squats, leg raises, a ‘push up and hold’, and the plank, all timed. Then we were in for a riding assessment, and after that, practices on a simulator. I’d need to pass to be able to ride; and I knew two things. Firstly, that I wanted to ride in the race. And secondly, that I didn’t want to have to take the fitness test more than once.

    So yes, I’d been practising, planking every night, squatting with the exercise ball, doing sprints in the garden. But I still didn’t feel ready. I didn’t need to be there until 9am, but true to form I found myself on the outskirts of Newmarket at 8am. That’s fine. I went to a petrol station, bought myself a coffee, and sat in my car watching YouTube videos of previous assessments, and people planking til they could plank no more.

    Nerves jittering to the max – most likely thanks to too much coffee – it was finally time to head off. Alright Camilla. You can do this. So off I went; put my car into first gear… and with a sickening crunch drove straight into the cement flowerbed I’d so carefully parked up against just twenty minute before. Bugger. Now what? I panicked for about ten seconds, and then decided there was nothing for it. I couldn’t possibly miss the fitness test after all the hype. So off I went the last eleven miles to Newmarket, with the warning light beeping at me the whole way.

    Anyway, it turns out that although that might not have been the worst part of the day, it was certainly the worst result of the day. Arriving at the BRS, their senior jockey coach, Richard Perham, put the fear of God into us by telling us this would be the toughest experience of our lives, and then it was straight into the fitness. Fortunately, Alby Bailey, another Magnolia Cup rider, and I discovered this handy blog while waiting in reception, so we knew exactly how many points we needed – and why there wasn’t much point in holding a squat for over two minutes if you knew you weren’t going to manage four. Surprisingly, however, although the fitness test was hellish, it wasn’t much worse than I’d expected. What made it less fun was the fact that we were also being filmed for Goodwood’s pre-race coverage – so there are lots of lovely videos of me planking all over their social media. Hurrah! Oh yes, and the fact that Hayley Turner, Britain’s most successful female jockey, was also there, in her capacity as the Magnolia Cup’s ambassador. As we struggled through press ups and leg raises, she flew through it all – putting us all to shame.

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    Next up was a riding assessment, including tacking up the horse in its bridle, saddle, and everything else needed when riding. Of course, as soon as the cameras were on me, I couldn’t even do up a buckle – but luckily my horse, Scarlet Ridge, was a sweetheart and behaved perfectly. After plenty of walking, trotting and cantering around the ring, we were sent up the gallops two at a time, and that was that! Fortunately, Richard decided that the two of us were up to scratch… so there we go. The assessment was done and dusted – so what’s next? Goodwood, I suppose…

    (PS… if anyone was wondering, the car radiator was broken. So I got a new one overnight, and a courtesy car. 6 hours of driving and £260 down… but at least I didn’t fail.)