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29 July 2022

Ashleigh Wicheard wins the Markel Magnolia Cup

Ashleigh Wicheard, who is a work rider for trainer Neil Mulholland, won the Markel Magnolia Cup charity race at Goodwood yesterday. Wicheard got a flying start on her mount Dark Shot and never saw another rival to run out a dominant winner.

Outside of racing, Wicheard has worked in specialist schools supporting children with autism, SEMH, and various other behavioural issues, and as a case worker and equine coordinator for a charity supporting young offenders.

The Markel Magnolia Cup supports The Brilliant Breakfast initiative in aid of The Prince’s Trust. The Brilliant Breakfast is a nationwide, fundraising event, run annually for a week in October. It brings together friends, family and colleagues over breakfast, to raise money for young women on The Prince’s Trust programmes across the UK.

Wicheard said: “It was unbelievable. Everybody says it’s like a whirlwind and it really was. I was instructed to get a good start and I just sent him and hoped for the best. I looked round a couple of times because I didn’t want to move in onto the rail if somebody was coming up. Thankfully, I got him out quick enough to get a nice position and I just tried to maintain the speed.”

Asked if she knew that she had won going past the post, she said: “Yes, I looked round a couple of times as I was getting tired and I thought ‘have I got time to just ease slightly or is somebody right on me?’ I could feel her (second-placed rider Annabel Neasham) coming, though.

“It is really hard to describe how I feel because one minute it feels real with everything that’s going on, but for the amount of hard work and everything that has been put in – I’ve used all my holiday to ride out for people [and prepare]. I’ve put everything into it. The fact that it has all come out the way it has is unbelievable.

“I work for Neil Mullholland and do a lot of travelling for him, so when I’m not working there I try and get the training and things in. He [Dark Shot] was brilliant, what a horse. He is an absolute machine.”

On the taking of the knee, she said: “Obviously this is a sport that I am invested in. I have been trying hard to promote diversity within the sport, just really by being a face in the paddock. My role at Neil’s is to take the horses to the races, so I’m regularly seen in the paddock. That for me is a good start. When the Magnolia Cup came along, then obviously that was a really good platform I felt for me to be able to do something like this on a main stage – where better? – and it’s probably the most impactful thing I could have done, really.

“You can talk a lot and you can read a lot, but actually when you see things – actions speak louder than words in some things. I thought about it in about February and I thought very carefully about how I was going to do it. I didn’t want to put pressure on any of the girls in case their families or they weren’t keen on that message, which wouldn’t have been a problem because that is their choice. But they were so supportive. What an amazing group of women and I think it shows that they knelt in solidarity. I was more anxious about that than riding in the race, to be honest, because I know with those kind of statements, they can be met with negativity as well as positivity. I just hope that it was a positive message that gets portrayed from this.”

On the work she does with vulnerable people in schools and prisons around the UK, utilising therapy with horses, she added: “To be able to see young men transform because of the horse is unbelievable. The horses and the work they do speak for themselves. I’ve spent a lot of time helping other people realise their potential. I thought ‘actually, it’s about time I focused on myself and what am I capable of!”

Scott Dixon, trainer of Dark Shot, said: “Ashleigh rode fantastically well. She was super confident the whole way through. Ashleigh works in racing and obviously this was her first time riding in an actual race, but she oozed confidence the whole way through.

“She came down to the yard and was super calm and collected. Even in the parade ring, I’ve seen apprentices and proper jockeys go to jelly, but Ashleigh was so calm the whole way through which filled me with confidence. She did the right thing and got a fantastic start – it was all good.

“Ashleigh has ridden Dark Shot twice now. She came down to my yard and rode a bit of work. I needed to make sure Ashleigh was capable as he is not a tricky ride, but he can be quite keen to post and run off a little bit in his races. I needed to make sure she had the skills to ride him and it was evident right away that she had. Dark Shot is getting a bit long in the tooth, but hopefully that gives him so much confidence.

“The Magnolia Cup raises over a £1 million for charities and gives these ladies a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s a lovely event, the crowd love it, we love it and it’s just a fabulous thing to be a part of.”

Runner-up Annabel Neasham, a multiple G1-winning trainer in Australia, said: “It was great. I was pretty unfit, but the horse gave me a great spin. I probably could have broken away cleaner but, with a standing start, he felt like he wanted to whip around at the start, so I felt like I wanted one to follow.

“I thought at halfway we might reel in the winner. There are two winning posts and I thought if it was the second one we might get there. He was awesome. He is a nine-year-old gelding and has had 45 starts – he was a perfect ride.

“It was a thrill. You are riding half a ton of animal. It makes me appreciate how fit the jockeys are. I’d love to take the idea back to Australia. There is all the health and safety things, but if it can be done here, I don’t see why not. It is a brilliant concept, great way to raise racing’s profile and raise money for charity.”

Olivia Kimber, the first known female jockey with MS to ride in a British horserace, finished third. She said: “It was an absolute thrill. The adrenaline that goes through you is incredible. I get what everyone says when saying that doing it once you just want to do it again. If I have the opportunity, 100 per cent I will do it again, it is amazing.

“It went really fast. The speed they go compared to when you work them at home is on another level. He jumped really well, travelled nicely and picked a few off at the end. He was fantastic. My legs can lock up [because of the MS], but they didn’t today. All was fine.”

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