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Olympic hero Ayton set for new challenge against rookie riders

Sarah Ayton (centre) with her crewmates Sarah Webb (left) and Pippa Wilson after their gold medal triumph at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing
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Dual Olympic sailing gold medal winner Sarah Ayton tries her hand for the first time in a totally different discipline when she joins 11 other unlicensed female riders in the seventh running of the Magnolia Cup at Goodwood on Thursday.

Ayton's golds in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008 were both in the yngling class, which is not the fastest branch of the sport and a discipline she describes as "like playing chess on water". The Magnolia Cup will be a challenge of a very different nature.

In yngling, she explains, it's all about good starts, tactical awareness, and marginal gains. So far, so similar, but that's where it ends. For besides being on dry land with a four-legged partner, she is very much on her own this time, whereas in yngling she was part of a three-woman crew. 

Ayton got involved almost by chance, having never ridden until the end of last year.

She explained: "I live near Goodwood and heard about the Magnolia Cup at the health club. It sounded like a great challenge and when the opportunity to take part came up, I was keen to have a go.

"I'd never ridden before but started in November with Clare Hanson in Pulborough. I think it might have been an advantage starting knowing nothing, as in sailing it's hardest to teach people when they come along with a little bit of experience.

"Then, after about 13 hours with Clare, I was ready to join Mark and Amanda Perrett, which was a fantastic experience and a real eye-opener for me."

Ayton has been riding out at the Perrett's famous Coombelands stables as many as four times a week. She is very familiar with her mount Archangel Raphael, who will race at Goodwood as 'Stable Returns', but admits she is still somewhat apprehensive about her race-riding debut.

She said: "He's very solid and experienced but he has his moments, and I'm hoping he'll come into his own on the racecourse. 

"I'm excited and my heart will be in my mouth thinking about the process of getting him down to the start, then milling around waiting for the off, then jumping off well and making sure I don't get blocked in and that sort of thing. My awareness is good but I've no race-riding experience."

The Magnolia Cup, to be run before the first race, has raised more than £1 million for various charitable causes and this year is supporting leading UK children’s mental health charity Place2Be.

Others competing include eventer Izzy Taylor, who won last year's running, Dido Harding, who has also ridden in the race before and owned Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Cool Dawn, and broadcaster Aly Vance, a former Great Britain modern pentathlete who will be familiar to racing fans for her work on At The Races and CNN.

All will wear bespoke jockey silks created by leading designers, such as Amanda Wakeley, Kate Halfpenny and Bella Freud. 

My heart will be in my mouth. My awareness is good, but I've no race-riding experience
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