Leading businesswomen learn to be jockeys
Ride on Ladies' Day at Glorious Goodwood
They train six months for charity race
Helped by former jockey Hayley Turner
Riding the straight course at Goodwood can be tough at the best of times – but when you’ve little to no racing experience behind you, it’s a different beast entirely.
Yet that’s the challenge awaiting 11 women, from a variety of different backgrounds, who’ll be racing horses at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour in front of 40,000 spectators at this week’s Glorious Goodwood Festival.
Weather presenters, journalists, designers – even the Bank of England’s chief operating officer – are among those competing in the sixth edition of the Magnolia Cup, a charity race that catapults leading businesswomen from the boardroom into the horse’s saddle, via a grueling six-month training schedule.
“It is above and beyond anything, unless they’ve climbed Everest, that these women will have done before,” Richard Perham, senior jockey coach at the British Racing School, tells CNN.
“It’s about overcoming adversity. It’s a very intense test, very difficult, and not easy at all for them to undertake.”
While Thursday’s Magnolia Cup may be a charity race in name – raising more than £1 million ($1.3 million) over its five years – it has a Grade A assessment, with Goodwood’s five-furlong course, located in England’s Sussex Downs, one of the quickest in the country.
The event opens Ladies’ Day at the five-day festival, now sponsored by Qatar.
The women have regular early-morning and weekend sessions with racehorse trainers, alongside a rigorous fitness regime, plus a demanding assessment has to be passed – all while maintaining the day job.
“It’s a whole different ball game. I’m just binging on exercise, doing as much as I can, and I am hoping for the best,” Emma Leslie-Miller, a bloodstock underwriter at Brit Insurance, tells CNN of her preparations.
“It’s tiring trying to juggle a job, the horse and training, I’ve spent a lot of the time very sore and tired.”
Perham, who oversees the competitors’ riding assessments, says they train like a top-level athlete preparing for a race.
“A professional jockey will work their body as hard as an Olympic athlete, so that’s how intense it is going to be on their muscle groups,” he says.
“Their muscles will get a hammering, similar to that of what Olympic athletes would put on their muscles. This is what they are going to put their bodies through – trust me, it’s hard work.”
A helping hand
The competitors – who will don silk outfits at Goodwood specially created by renowned fashion designers – can at least call on the help of Hayley Turner, Britain’s most successful female jockey, to help them through the experience.
Turner, the Magnolia Cup Jockey’s Ambassador, won one of Britain’s most valuable mile handicaps at Goodwood – the Golden Mile, on Boom and Bust in 2011 – so knows more than most about what it takes to ride the illustrious course.
“The Magnolia Cup is one of the most challenging charity races there is going because Goodwood is a very testing track,” the 33-year-old tells CNN.
“You’ve got the buildup, the atmosphere – the horses are really on edge. There’s undulations, there’s hills and obviously it’s the first experience for most of the girls doing it.”
“And it’s not just the race they have to worry about,” she adds. “You’ve got to go in the weighing room, get dressed up in the gear, do the parade, get led out before the start, do it all properly.”
Turner has also been offering the women fitness advice – having retired a year ago, she is getting in shape for her return to racing in the Shergar Cup at Ascot next month.
“We’ve all got a WhatsApp group set up,” Turner explains. “I send the girls video clips of me in the gym, showing them what they need to do.
“Being a female, you need to build your muscles up a bit more than the men would usually have to. It’s a big thing for them, but they just need to enjoy it and train as hard as they can.
“A one-off ride is such hard work that you really have to embrace it, really get stuck in.”
The Magnolia Cup competitors can also draw inspiration from another member of British sporting royalty – former cycling champion Victoria Pendleton.
Pendleton, who won Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012, swapped saddles in March 2015 to become a jockey with the ambition of riding at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.
She finished an impressive fifth in the Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham, having previously never even sat on a horse before making the switch.
“Victoria Pendleton is such an inspiration for the girls – the way she rode that horse at Cheltenham was just brilliant,” Turner says. “It’s never ran so well in its life.
“It just must be absolutely terrifying for someone who has never ridden before, so I’ve got enormous amounts of respect for somebody doing that.”
Charlotte Hogg, chief operating officer of the Bank of England, has found jockey training to be an empowering experience so far.
“The fact that it’s for women doing something incredibly hard that most of our husbands wouldn’t dream of just appeals to me,” the 45-year-old, who has previously competed in equestrian events, told the race website. “It’s very much in the spirit of the way I think women can succeed.
“What a great idea to get women who are not professional jockeys in any way to popularize women and the sport of racing. It seemed like a wonderful thing to be a part of.”