The big highlight of Friday night was the Markel Champions Challenge in aid of the Injured Jockeys’ Fund (IJF) in which a team of prominent female jockeys trained by four-time Badminton winner Pippa Funnell took on their male counterparts, including champion jockeys Richard Johnston and Ryan Moore against the clock over the coloured poles in the unfamiliar environment of a densely packed indoor arena.
A fiercely competitive men’s team, all riding jumping horses, trained by Olympic gold medallist Nick Skelton and captained by 20-time champion jockey Sir “AP” McCoy who insisted on raising the height of the fences, triumphed with a collective time of 151.16 seconds against the girls’ 159.11, but Bridget Andrews, one of the most successful ever female point-to-point jockeys, was fastest of all in 33.88 seconds.
Her fiancé, Harry Skelton, was last to go for the boys’ team and, riding one of Laura Kraut’s jumpers, he set off with terrific verve but a tack malfunction when the hackamore bridle ended up around the horse’s ears put paid to the challenge.
Hasty repairs with cable ties took place and off Harry went again, only for the same thing to happen, so he appropriated one of his team mates’ horses and set off for a third go, but had to settle for the third fastest time of 35.85 behind flat jockey Jim Crowley.
“We get more of a buzz doing this than anything else – it’s the highlight of the year,” said Jim.
“We’ll be back next year – with better tack,” promised Harry.
AP is president of the IJF and was quick to highlight the importance of the charity, which is opening a third rehabilitation centre, the Peter O’ Sullevan House, in Newmarket next year.