Riding in the Newmarket Town Plate was an ambition Rachel Rennie had hoped to achieve five years ago, but following what would turn out to be a life-saving visit to the doctors it is only now she is receiving the chance to realise that dream.
Everything was set for Rennie to contest the 2016 renewal of the historic three and three quarter mile amateur riders’ contest, which dates back to 1666. That was until she was diagnosed with breast cancer in June-just a month before the race.
Had it not been for some quick thinking by Rennie, who works for Newmarket-based trainer Martin Smith, after discovering a lump near her left breast then she may not have been around to tell her story and receive a second chance of participating in the 351st Town Plate.
Rennie said: “I had a little pea size lump appear overnight about a month before I was meant to ride in the race. I went to the doctors and they said to go to the hospital to get it checked out and a week later I was in surgery.
“I’m a person that never goes to the doctors for anything. I’ve probably only been about a dozen times in my life so for me to act was quite surprising.
“It was pretty swift and to give them their due they were on the ball. I had the lump cut out and eight rounds of chemotherapy and 20 rounds of radiotherapy and 10 years’ worth of tablets.
“I went to the hospital and they put through all sorts of tests which are probably worse than the treatment and they came back and said it was a grade three lump and we need to get it straight away.
“Luckily they got it all out and made a nice nip and tuck with it so I've got a nice scar from it but that is all I’ve got.”
Despite holding a number of jobs away from the equine industry at various points during her life, including being a shoe shop manager, the Cottenham-based rider believes having horses around her at home helped at the time of her ordeal
She said: “Having the horses around probably helped me recover as it meant I wasn’t sitting around feeling sorry for myself.
“If I felt poorly I would go out for half an hour then come back in. I was lucky that I can’t say I felt too ill with the chemotherapy, it was the radiotherapy that felt worse.
“Looking back it was a bit like childbirth. It was pretty awful at the time but you soon forget about it. It was about six months the whole thing from start to finish.
“You do think, am I going to get out of it or is it going to come back at some point and that is always on the back of your mind. Every so often you think what if it comes back but you can’t think like that.”
Although Amber Flush, who was supposed to be Rennie’s original ride in the race back in 2016, has since retired the she believes in Friends Don’t Ask, affectionately known as Freddie to all those connected to Smith’s yard, she has found an ideal replacement.
Since opening his account over fences at Fakenham last November over three miles and five furlongs, the giant framed six year old has since added to that victory with wins at Fontwell in March and on his penultimate start at Newton Abbot last month.
She said: “We had a couple of big days out with Amber Flush on the Flat at Sandown and Ascot, while she was second on her first chase start at Worcester.
“She won over hurdles at Huntingdon and she would have been a really good ride in the Town Plate.
“At the time of the cancer missing the Town Plate was the least of my worries but I didn’t think I would get the chance to have another go at it but luckily I’ve got this share in Friends Don’t Ask.
“He has taken a while to come to hand as he is such a big gangly thing but he has started coming into his own now racing at distances beyond three miles.
“Once we stepped him up in trip I thought he could be one for the Town Plate and one day I mentioned it to Martin and he was dead keen so here we are.
“I did consider bringing the mare back into training at some point for this but she has since had two foals and that wouldn’t be fair on her.”
There may be no prize-money on offer to the winning rider, however Rennie has set her sights on securing the Golding Perpetual Challenge Plate, silver photograph frame, £125 Golding voucher and box of Powters celebrated Newmarket Sausages, awarded to the first past the post.
She said: “I’m sure I will be very nervous on the day. I’ve got to get to the start first as he is a handful. It is a case of doing what you can and being ready for the day.
“I’ve ridden in charity races around Garthorpe and Horseheath - one was a mile and a quarter and the other a mile and a half so around a third of what I will be up against here.
“I’m massively under pressure from the yard. They are expecting the win and they are already eating the sausages! The pressure is all on me. I don’t want to disappoint anybody so I want to win as well.
“If I say I’m going to do something I generally go on and do it. I’m quite a competitive person so once I said I was doing it I couldn’t lose face and back down.”
While Rennie can now enjoy the build up to the Town Plate, which will take place after racing on Saturday 28th August, the concluding meeting of the year on the July Course, she has issued a message to anyone who may find themselves in a similar position as to what she did five years ago.
She added: “For me it was just a little blip that got in the way for a while and I’m probably busier now than I have ever been.
“There are plenty of people that go through it and get over it and get on with their life as normal.
“The message is if you feel something do something about it don’t think I will leave it for another day as the statistic now is one in two will get cancer and you can’t afford to ignore these things.
“Get it checked as that could mean the difference of it being completely recoverable or not.”
Rennie will be raising funds for Cancer Research UK and Egyptian horse welfare charity Prince Fluffy. To donate, visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Rachel-Rennie3