Gallop to Goodwood: Time is of the essence

    8 July 2016

    Ah, bank holiday Monday. A day for lie-ins and breakfast in bed – and even better, in May, we get two of them. Sadly – or perhaps not so sadly – that’s not how my bank holidays turned out this year. Instead of the promised lie-in, I was up and about at 5am, making my way to the Epsom Downs. ‘If you’re awake already, you must either have children or be working over the bank holiday’, the radio presenter commented as I drove down. Well no, not exactly. I was awake out of choice – because I’d agreed to ride in the Magnolia Cup, a ladies’ charity race at the Qatar Goodwood Festival at the end of July.

    When I signed up, it sounded like a good idea. But in the early hours of bank holiday Monday, I wasn’t quite so keen. When people find out that I’m riding in a race, the first question is almost invariably ‘flat or jumps?’. When I reply that there’s no jumping involved, they tend to look disappointed or – well, not exactly disdainful, but there’s certainly a feeling that a flat race isn’t anything to worry about.

    With under three weeks to go ’til the race however, I am worried enough about riding a racehorse in a field of 11 other horses, all travelling at 45mph, without factoring in jumps. I’m desperately trying to fit in as much riding as possible around my work – I’ve decided that at this point in time, all riding is good riding, so as well as riding on the gallops a couple of times a week, I’m riding some kind of horse pretty much every single day… though I’ve no idea how much good it’ll do.

    Part of my worry stems from the fact that I’m a complete newbie to racing. Yes, I’ve been to the races hundreds of times, but before March I’d never even sat on a racehorse. There are a total of eleven women riding, and many of them have ridden in the race before – for one rider, Dido Harding, this will be her fifth Magnolia Cup. I, on the other hand, have no clue what to expect. I’ve gained some comfort from the fact that two of the others who I know and are also riding – Alby Bailey and Georgie Lane-Godfrey – are also new to the whole thing, so we desperately share any information and worries with one another, frantic to learn any tricks of the trade before it’s too late. Is it too late? Let’s hope not!