The South Downs cover 260 sq miles from Hampshire’s Itchen Valley to Eastbourne in East Sussex. Nestled near the southernmost point is Goodwood racecourse, which claims to be the most beautiful track in the world — and you can certainly see why. The downs are stunning, and from the top of the stands you can look out for miles.
The course — part of the Goodwood estate — is owned by Charles Gordon-Lennox, the current Lord March and future 11th Duke of Richmond, who lives just a few hundred metres away in Goodwood House. His true passion is, admittedly, cars. He is president of the British Automobile Racing Club, and in 1998 reopened the Goodwood Motor Circuit, which had closed in 1966. The Festival of Speed and the Goodwood Revival might eclipse the horses somewhat, but horse-racing here is still a class act.
This year, the site will host 19 days of racing. The jewel in its crown, however, is Glorious Goodwood — now officially the Qatar Goodwood Festival. When the Qatari deal was first announced, it’s safe to say that not everyone thought it was a good idea. But Goodwood has managed to retain a special charm, and the Qatari sponsorship means that the prize funds for the key races have been boosted — attracting some of the best horses, trainers and jockeys in the world.
After breaking his shoulder a month ago, Frankie Dettori has said that he’ll be keeping his riding to a minimum in the build-up to Goodwood so as to be in the finest possible fettle — or as he puts it: ‘I want to be riding at Goodwood in every race.’ Dettori will be on the people’s favourite Big Orange in the Goodwood Cup, newly promoted to a Group One race; if he wins, Big Orange will be the first horse in history to win three years on the trot (well, on the gallop, I suppose). Ladies’ Day (August 3) is also taken very seriously. At similar days across the country, you’ll find floaty frocks and elegant hats, as women compete to win the ‘best dressed’ competition. Goodwood takes it one step further. Its Ladies’ Day includes a charity race, the Magnolia Cup, run over five-and-a-half furlongs. Twelve women — none what you’d call ‘real’ jockeys — will thunder up Goodwood’s precious turf dressed in silks created for the day by female fashion designers, and this year raising money for children’s mental health charity, Place2Be.
I rode in the Magnolia Cup for the first time last year; this week I’m back for another go. By rights your first ever race should be on a miserable midweek day in the back end of nowhere, with only a few hundred people watching. If, on the other hand, you start your racing ‘career’ (ha!) with the Magnolia Cup, you are in front of thousands.
Am I nervous? Yes, of course. I may know the routine, but that doesn’t make it any less scary. Am I in it to win it? Probably not, but I’ll give it my best shot. Of course it’s all for charity, and I know it’s the taking part that counts — but I’ve had too many 5 a.m. starts and done too many thigh-burning exercises not to try my best. Now, it’s just me and my horse…