Maiden rac­ers

At Good­wood House, Sophia Money-coutts meets the plucky aris­to­crats, mod­els and doc­tors who will com­pete in an all-fe­male horse race for char­ity

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents -

Aris­to­crats, doc­tors and mod­els are among the brave am­a­teurs train­ing for thor­ough­bred glory in the Mag­no­lia Cup, Good­wood’s all-fe­male char­ity race. Sophia Money-coutts stud­ies their form.

It is a bright day in West Sus­sex and sun­shine glints off the flint wings of Good­wood House. Of all Bri­tain’s great houses, it is one of the most un­usual-look­ing: grey and built in the shape of three sides of an oc­tagon with cir­cu­lar tow­ers at each cor­ner. It has been the ma­jes­tic seat of the Duke of Rich­mond since 1697, and to­day, with the 11th duke in res­i­dence, the ducal stan­dard (red, yel­low and blue, dec­o­rated with roses and boars’ heads) flut­ters over the roof in the breeze.

The scene on the neatly mown lawn in front of the house is slightly less ma­jes­tic, as four women on horse­back try to keep still for a group pho­to­graph. Rosie Tap­ner, a 22-year-old for­mer Burberry model and Vogue cover star, is hav­ing par­tic­u­lar trou­ble with her horse, which is re­fus­ing to stand be­side the oth­ers and keeps spin­ning in cir­cles, churn­ing up the grass.

Luck­ily, all four are good rid­ers. They need to be be­cause, along with eight oth­ers from the worlds of busi­ness, fash­ion, me­dia and medicine, they have signed up to ride in the Mag­no­lia Cup, an an­nual women-only char­i­ta­ble race that has taken place at Good­wood for the past seven years, rais­ing £1.2 mil­lion along the way. In previous years, com­peti­tors have in­cluded model Edie Camp­bell, DJ Sara Cox and Baroness Hard­ing, the for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive of Talk­talk. This year it is held on 2 Au­gust – Ladies’ Day dur­ing Glo­ri­ous Good­wood race week – and sup­ports Can­cer Re­search UK.

Named af­ter the flow­ers that adorn the front of the house, the race is a five-and-a-half-fur­long (1.1km) flat sprint, with the am­a­teur jock­eys in rac­ing sad­dles and silks, com­pet­ing for vic­tory in front of 25,000 cheer­ing spec­ta­tors. In all, it will last just 90 sec­onds, with rac­ing speeds of up to 45mph. Most of them have rid­den as a hobby, but rac­ing as a jockey is some­thing else – like the dif­fer­ence be­tween driv­ing a Ford Mon­deo and an F1 Fer­rari – and the ef­fort and the train­ing have been com­pared to that of an Olympic ath­lete, al­beit con­densed into a few months.

While the pho­tog­ra­pher sets up, one of this year’s com­peti­tors, Lady Ta­tiana Mount­bat­ten, daugh­ter of the 4th Mar­quess of Mil­ford Haven (a cousin of the Queen), leans against a wall, her

legs bent at a right an­gle, demon­strat­ing how to strengthen her thigh mus­cles for the ben­e­fit of Dr Amanda Cross, an­other of the rid­ers. ‘You need to be able to squat,’ in­structs Ta­tiana, push­ing her back against the wall, ‘be­cause with rac­ing you’re lit­er­ally squat­ting on a horse.’ Amanda copies her. ‘It re­ally burns,’ she says af­ter a few mo­ments, her face creas­ing with ef­fort.

It may sound like a scene from a Jilly Cooper novel, but each jockey has been is­sued with a bru­tal train­ing pro­gramme to get them race-fit and must com­plete a hard­core fit­ness test be­fore com­pet­ing. ‘The mag­ni­tude of the chal­lenge shouldn’t be un­der­es­ti­mated,’ says Sam Han­son, a for­mer jockey who works for Good­wood. ‘They’re rid­ing an­i­mals that have been bred, fed and trained to go as fast as pos­si­ble.’

The rid­ers won’t be in­tro­duced to their mounts un­til nearer the day, but in the mean­time most have been rid­ing a suc­ces­sion of skit­tish race­horses in or­der to feel com­fort­able (or as com­fort­able as pos­si­ble) in the small, pre­car­i­ous rac­ing sad­dle.

On the day, they’ll wear in­tri­cate – and sur­pris­ingly woke – silks cre­ated by the glam­orous Ira­nian-swedish fash­ion de­signer Mor­varid Sa­hafi, whose cre­ations are all about fe­male em­pow­er­ment. The faces of Em­me­line and Sylvia Pankhurst stare out from sev­eral silks, along­side the slo­gan ‘I can’t be­lieve we’re still protest­ing this shit’.

It’s a par­tic­u­larly sig­nif­i­cant sum­mer at Good­wood be­cause it’s the first year that it’s for­mally un­der the helm of the new duke, Charles Gor­don-len­nox, 63, who is charm­ing, debonair and prefers to be ad­dressed by his first name rather than ‘Your Grace’. He has run the 11,500-acre es­tate since 1993 and has in­tro­duced the Mag­no­lia Cup, the Fes­ti­val of Speed and the Re­vival in that time, striv­ing to mod­ernise it. (His father, the 10th duke, died in Septem­ber.) ‘We have a bril­liant group again this year, from all walks of life, which be­fits the ethos of the race,’ he says. ‘It’s such a phe­nom­e­nal chal­lenge for the rid­ers.’ So, who would be mad enough to sign up for it?

The Mag­no­lia Cup takes place on Thurs­day 2 Au­gust at the Qatar Good­wood Fes­ti­val. See good­ /mag­no­li­acup

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