Rookie rider William Gittus has been busy applying the final touches to his preparations ahead of his first public racecourse appearance in the renowned Newmarket Town Plate tomorrow – one of horseracing’s most historic spectacles. Gittus, 44, is the managing director of the Jockey Club Estates, which owns and manages a substantial property portfolio including Newmarket’s famed training grounds.
As well as the rigours of his day job, Gittus has spent the last four and a half months learning to race-ride for charity. His aim is to raise more than £20,000 for Racing Welfare, which helps racing’s people in need, and Help for Heroes, working for those who have been wounded in conflicts.
His previous experience in the saddle was extremely limited and he had not sat on a horse since completing a week-long riding course for military officers at Sandhurst in 1988, focused predominantly at not falling off during a parade.
Now, thanks to a crash course with the British Racing School’s Sue Donnelly, he is ready to face up to the prospect of partnering the Gerard Butler-trained Red Anthem in the gruelling three-mile, six-furlong Town Plate – a race held for amateurs in the truest sense of the word.
Gittus said: “My reasons for doing this are two-fold: firstly, I viewed it as a personal challenge and also I wished to raise money for two very worthwhile causes, Help for Heroes and Racing Welfare.
“The main ambition in the race is to get both the horse and myself around safely. If I were to finish near the front it would be a bonus.
“On the other hand, if I were to fall off it would be rather embarrassing! Hopefully, though, that won’t happen and, as I’ve said, the most important thing is to ensure that the horse gets around safely.”
Gittus is now a very athletic 11st 3lb from 13st 6lb on 1st January this year. As well as the effort required to ride a horse, the pounds have been shed thanks to a very healthy diet.
He said: “I’ve eaten more fruit in the last four months than I had in the previous 40 years! Plenty of fruit and vegetables have been the key as well as lots of fish and chicken.”
The former officer with the Brigade of Gurkhas started riding in April under the auspices of Donnelly, who has been most impressed at the progress of her ‘pupil’.
She said: “He has been terrific – dedicated, determined and totally focussed. And he has been a lovely person to work with.
“To put into perspective what he is trying to do, it’s like somebody who swims a width of a town pool deciding to swim the channel within six months.
“It is a huge undertaking and not just a physical challenge but there is a horse involved who has a mind of its own.”
The Newmarket Town Plate was first run in 1666, inaugurated by Charles II. The prizes include a box of renowned Newmarket sausages and few would begrudge Gittus a good old-fashioned fry-up if all his commendable efforts ended up bringing him a hard-earned success in the famous contest.
You can sponsor William Gittus’ efforts for charity online: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/JCE
Newmarket Racecourses is donating 50% of all adult ticket sales for its Premier Enclosure for its race meeting on Saturday 27th August 2011 for all advance bookings (0844 579 3010 or at www.newmarketracecourses.co.uk, quoting code: WAG2011). The meeting celebrates 25 years of its Newmarket Nights racing plus music events and will feature entertainment from Peter Andre, Peppa Pig and G*Mania.