Runners climb the hill at Cheltenham

01st February 2014

One day in March: riding in the St Patrick’s Day Derby

I am Emma Cook, I work for The Jockey Club and I am one of the people selected to ride in the St Patrick Day’s Derby at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.

It is an amazing opportunity and I am very lucky to have been chosen to do it. But at the heart of it, this race is about an amazing cause, Cancer Research. Most of us will be touched by cancer in some way at some point in their life and research is so important to changing that.

Ever since I found out I was riding in the race it has felt like I am at the centre of a whirlwind – particularly when AP McCoy agreed to coach me.

The link with AP came about in an extraordinary way. I took my brother, who is a huge fan of his, to see AP reading from his new book. Somehow I found the confidence to tell him I was thinking of doing the charity race, he told me it was an amazing opportunity and I should grab it.

Later on he came back to me to tell me that I really should apply for it so I cheekily said that I would do it,if he agreed to coach me. He thought about it for a minute before saying yes and then I made him shake on it to make doubly sure as I know how busy he is!

Originally he agreed to do an equiciser session with me at Oaksey House in Lambourn but afterwards he suggested that we should put what he taught me into practice on the gallops. AP might not think he is a good coach, but he has been an amazing support, and I am really grateful to him.

I have ridden all my life – working at a riding school from the age of 10 upwards – but the first time I sat on racehorse was last November. First thing that hit me? How small the saddle was! I am used to one with a lot more to grip onto.

I am currently riding out three times a week at Fergal O’Brien’s yard and recently I have started to ride upsides. The first time was a crazy experience; absolutely terrifying but in a ‘Let’s do that again right now!’ way.

I went first, setting off at a steady pace and then all of a sudden there was someone one next to me, so close I felt I could clamber off my horse and onto theirs. The speed was unbelievable too! You think you have gone fast before, but it is nothing compared to that.

When we are preparing to go up the gallops, I have a moment to get myself into the right mind set, but part of me is always going ‘I am on a racehorse that is actually in racing, not an ex-racehorse, a real one that will be racing again soon’ and I am so grateful to Fergal for letting experience that.

The race is 1 mile 5 furlongs but the gallop I am riding on at the moment is 5 furlongs as the grass gallop is a victim of the weather. So at some point, I am going to have to get used to riding much further.

As regard to a ride for the race,  I have potential horses in the pipeline, but the most important thing at the moment is to get as much experience on as many horses as I can whilst trying not think too hard about what it is I have signed up to do. I am going to be riding at the Cheltenham Festival and it really doesn’t get much better than that.