From journalist to jockey: a serious wake up call

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  • Preparations for the Champions Willberry Derby charity race at Epsom in August have stepped up a notch, and the reality of what lies ahead is really starting to hit me.

    Last Wednesday (9 May) myself and six fellow Epsom jockeys had an assessment day at the British Racing School (BRS) in Newmarket, which is a truly fabulous facility.

    To try and give myself a chance at not completely embarrassing myself in the assessment, I met Bob [Champion] back at Palace House in Newmarket the week before for a refresher session on the Equicizer.

    Thankfully I hadn’t forgotten everything he had taught me and I found that the time I could spend on the Equicizer had increased which was encouraging.

    I then went to ride out for friends Dale Peters and Nat Richardson at their point-to-point yard. I say ‘ride out for them’, but really it is more a case of them letting me steal one of their horses and then hoping I don’t ruin it!

    They were very kind and let me canter a horse called You Too Pet, who has enjoyed a very successful season of point-to-pointing with three wins and had just finished well at the Hunter Chase evening at Cheltenham.

    Importantly I didn’t fall off and I didn’t seem to annoy the horse — success!

    So it was on to assessment day and although really looking forward to the experience, I have to admit I was also completely terrified. There were so many things that I could do wrong or badly, but I tried to put them to the back of my mind, telling myself that it wasn’t like I was a professional jockey whose career depended on the outcome.

    It was great to finally meet some of the other people taking part in the race — Deborah Auld, Lucia Borradaile, Abigail Groves, Heather Larson, Alex Monro and Camilla Swift. Most of them had already met each other when they walked the course at Epsom a few weeks ago, but unfortunately as I was at the Punchestown Festival in Ireland, watching some brilliant racing, I couldn’t make it. It was also interesting to hear how their fundraising efforts are going and I feel like this is a good place for me to ask if you do have even just £1 to donate, please do! My fundraising page is here: uk.virginmoneygiving.com/GemmaRedrup and any donation would be fantastic, thank you.

    We were welcomed, briefed and weighed by Richard Perham, a senior jockey coach at the BRS, who let us know what we were in for with regards to our assessment. I think it’s safe to say everyone in the room knew they were in for some rigorous testing.

    The first task of the day was a fitness test, beginning with the bleep test. I was quietly confident as I am a frequent runner, and was pleased to finish equal first of the group with Alex. Sadly my performance peaked there…!

    The ensuing challenges, comprising leg raises to the beat of a metronome, wobble cushion squats, a plank, elastic band pushes, a press-up and hold and exercise ball squats, were nothing short of hellish and overall I was disappointed. My leg strength was a great deal better than the rest of me. I smashed my collarbone in a nasty rotational fall while eventing nine years ago and it is now virtually non-existent, so I have always steered clear of doing any sort of upper body strengthening exercises as it is very painful. Well, as I was on the floor of the BRS gym, attempting to sustain my press-up, I wish I had tried to do something about it!

    On the Racewood equicizer

    I must at this point say a huge well done to Lucia, who as the oldest member of our group, absolutely smashed it — her fitness was equal to that of a professional jockey and put us all to shame.

    The point was hammered home to us — although this is a charity race, it is a very serious challenge. Every racing person I tell that I’m riding the Derby course at Epsom looks at me in horror. It is widely regarded as the most difficult Flat course in Britain, if not the world, due to its twists, turns and camber. The racing world can’t have a bunch of unfit riders on supremely fit racehorses going round such a tough course. Point duly noted, I am considerably upping the content of my home workouts.

    With that out of the way, it was time for the fun bit — riding.

    We were all wired up with earpieces so that Richard could talk to us while we were on board and then handed our tack and assigned our horses.

    It’s safe to say I fell in love with my horse; Astrovirtue, a seven-year-old who previously ran on the Flat. He was foot-perfect throughout the ridden assessment which involved trotting around the round gallop as a string and then doing some slightly quicker work in pairs (bright bay pictured top, getting some advice from Bob). I untacked Astrovirtue and said a big thank you to him for being so understanding with me!

    Continued below…

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    After some lunch, we all headed to a room with four Equicizers in it. Here we were able to ride a Racewood equicizer, which is wired up to a TV screen which plays headcam footage from a real race.

    Richard chose a two-mile race to try and replicate the amount of time we will be riding at Epsom. We also practised changing our hands, which is essentially a way of keeping your reins nice and short to help keep the horse balanced, and also tried getting lower into the saddle to start riding some sort of finish. To my surprise, I didn’t get too tired and although far from stylish, I feel like I am improving.

    Sadly our day was then complete — my brain was fried with information and I had jelly legs, but I would have loved to have stayed there a few more days to learn even more.

    Over the next few weeks, I will concentrate on riding out more frequently. I’ve got a trainer in Newmarket lined up to help me do this and I’m really looking forward to the opportunity. Beautiful early summer mornings riding out in Newmarket — what’s not to love?

    Gemma x

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