It’s not just Olympic gold medal-winner Nick Skelton who has been breaking equestrian new ground for the over-50s.
At the age of 52, sports journalist Marcus Townsend, the Daily Mail‘s racing correspondent, has ridden in his first horse race.
Townsend may have finished sixth and last at Windsor on Saturday evening, but he is leading in the charity stakes, having raised more than £8,000 for HEROS – the Homing Ex-Racehorses Organisation Scheme.
“Perhaps not surprisingly, the telephone did not ring on Sunday with an enquiry from a trainer asking whether I was free to ride on Tuesday,” Townsend wrote in his Mail column the day after his racing debut.
“Apart from a few reluctant sits on a pony in my early teens, I as a non-rider was not even worthy of the term ‘novice’ when I went to my local riding school in October 2015,” Townsend said.
Townsend needed to lose more than 2 stones to be able to take part in the charity race. “Standard mid-life crisis stuff!” as he described it.
With sessions at the British Racing School in Newmarket, coaching from Michael Hills, the 1996 Derby winning jockey, and riding out on Moon Trip, his race mount, at Geoffrey Deacon’s stables at Compton, near Lambourn, Townsend got himself into good enough shape to take part, despite at least one bad fall which left him battered and bruised.
“This is the hardest thing I have ever done and I am not even including my regular 4.45am wake-up alarms to get me out of bed and around the M25 before it gets too busy so I can make it down to Compton,” Townsend said.
Townsend’s chosen charity, HEROS, was formed in 2006, and helps to re-train and re-home racehorses so that they can have a productive and enjoyable life when their racing days are over.
Of the race itself, Townsend said that it all passed in a blur, and that, with his jockey putting up some overweight, “Poor Moon Trip was handicapped out of it.”
But Townsend added: “It was a privilege for me to mix with the likes of Frankie Dettori, Jim Crowley and Willy Twiston-Davies in the weighing room and race alongside rivals, three of whom work full-time for trainers.
“In one way I feel a little guilty. My job gave me the contacts to ride and to secure help and a mount in Saturday’s race. There are loads of stable staff vastly more competent than me — they are the backbone of the sport and would love the chance to race just once, fulfilling lifetime ambitions.”
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