A rider ruled out of a historic amateur race following a breast cancer diagnosis has fulfilled her ambition to take part five years later, and won.
Racing secretary Rachel Rennie, 49, had been due to ride in the Newmarket Town Plate in July 2016 but a month before she discovered a pea-sized lump in her left breast.
“I’m usually the sort of person that thinks ‘it will be fine, it will go away’ but for once I was sensible enough to go to the doctors. I was referred to the hospital for tests, given a diagnosis and before I knew it I was in surgery,” Rachel told H&H.
“I went through the whole kit and kaboodle; surgery to remove the lump, eight rounds of chemo, 20 rounds of radiotherapy and given about 10 years’ worth of drugs. I finished my last radiotherapy session on Christmas Eve.
“It was a bit shocking because when you’re young and fit it never crosses your mind that you could get something like that, but unfortunately people do. I finished my last radiotherapy session on Christmas Eve. It’s always in the back of your mind what if it comes back, but you can’t think of it that way otherwise you’d be permanently in a state of anxiety. You just have to think it’s gone for now, and hopefully it stays that way.”
Rachel, who works for Newmarket trainer Martin Smith and has three horses in training, decided three months ago to enter the Newmarket Town Plate on 28 August with Friends Don’t Ask, known as Freddy.
“You’ve got to have a fairly specific horse for the Newmarket Town Plate because it’s in the summer and a lot of jumping horses don’t go on that quick ground. It’s a real marathon trip of four miles. I have a share in Freddy and I jokingly said to Martin I could ride him in the race and he said ‘alright then’, and I thought maybe I shouldn’t have said that!,” said Rachel.
“I then had to pass what is essentially the jockey’s fitness test and medical. It was all pretty intensive to get fit and it’s one of those things you really can’t replicate. We ride on the gallops every day but probably only a mile, and the Newmarket Town Plate is four. That was my biggest worry, can I make it to the end without buckling and toppling off the side.”
Rachel has ridden in three charity races previously and regularly rides out on six-year-old Freddy, who she describes as a “bit like riding a giraffe”.
“At 17hh he’s tall and gangly. He doesn‘t like a lot of pressure on his mouth and he can be a bit boisterous. He’s well known for being a bit of a handful to get on,” she said.
“On the day we started out in front for a bit because he’s better off going at his own pace. A couple of people overtook me then towards the end it was between myself and another horse that had stayed on. We swapped positions a couple of times but then the track goes down into a dip and you come up to the winning line. Luckily Freddy is racing fit and has plenty of stamina so it was a case of trying to push it out for the last furlong, and we won by about two lengths.”
Rachel, who has competed across the disciplines including team chasing and lower level eventing, said she’s quite a competitive person and enjoys an adrenaline rush.
“I enjoy it but it’s incredibly nerve wracking. The last thing you want to do in front of 18,000 people is end up on your backside. When I got on on Saturday everyone said I was as white as a ghost,” she said.
“We’re only a small yard in Newmarket so it was nice to do it for the staff, they got really into it and were desperate for us to win so I couldn’t let them down. It would be nice to defend my crown, but maybe I should retire now on a 100% strike rate; one ride and one win!”
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