Why Goodwood’s Magnolia Cup means so much to rider Camilla

Camilla Hickish at Goodwood in training for the Magnolia Cup / Picture by Dominic James
Camilla Hickish at Goodwood in training for the Magnolia Cup / Picture by Dominic James

Camilla Hickish has more reason than most to show a determination to make this year’s Magnolia Cup a major success.

That’s because this year’s race is raising a serious amount money for Cancer Research – and Camilla has beaten cancer not once but twice.

I’ve done a lot with Cancer Research – Race For Life events, that sort of thing. Then earlier this year I got a phone call from someone who remembered that I was a keen rider and wondered whether I would like to take part in the Magnolia Cup. I jumped at the chance.

Camilla Hickish

When she was 15, complaints of breathlessness turned quickly into a diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma. After what appeared to be successful treatment, it returned.

A higher-intensity treatment followed and Camilla – now 24 – has been in remission for eight years.

These days the newly-qualified doctor is fit, healthy and active – and has gone about the challenge of preparing to ride in today’s Magnolia Cup with some relish.

She is one of a group of 12 women from a variety of walks of life who will tackle Goodwood’s undulating track in front of a huge crowd on Ladies’ Day.

They will be trying to win the Magnolia Cup, an event which has been more successful than anyone could have imagined when it was first run at Glorious in 2011.

Speaking to us for our exclusive Glorious supplement three weeks ago, Camilla is nervous – but at the same time she can’t wait. She will be proud to help raise an estimated £200,000 for a charity that so many hold dear to their heart, one that is doing so much good work every day to help people beat and resist the awful disease.

She told us: “I’ve done a lot with Cancer Research – Race For Life events, that sort of thing. Then earlier this year I got a phone call from someone who remembered that I was a keen rider and wondered whether I would like to take part in the Magnolia Cup.

“I jumped at the chance. I knew all about Goodwood but didn’t know much about the Magnolia Cup. When I found out about the background and the fact it was raising money for Cancer Research, it seemed the perfect thing to do.

“In late February or early March it was all agreed. I had just finished my degree in medicine was due to go away to south-east Asia for a stint in a hospital, plus a bit of travelling, but the race organisers were happy for me to go as long as I could do some training while away.”

That training has been an eye-opener for Camilla, who now knows riding a racehorse is not just about being able to ride. “There’s a huge element of fitness – I need a lot more strength in my legs and arms than I’ve ever had before. I go to the gym a lot and I’ve done two marathons, but this is a whole different level.”

Camilla has been riding horses since she could walk – but had to take an enforced break from it when illness struck.

“My family has always had horses and after we moved to Sussex, when I was eight, I joined the local pony club and horses were a big part of my life.

“I’ve worked with racehorses too. I worked briefly at the Brightling Park racing yard in East Sussex exercising the racehorses, so I am used to how they are a different type of animal.

“But riding took a back seat when my life changed when I was 15. I was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma and it knocked me for six. You don’t expect it at any age, especially when you are so young.

“I’d been getting breathless but just thought I was a bit unfit. But when I was tested they found a tumour on my chest and another on my neck. The one on my chest was pressing against my windpipe. I knew straight away this type of cancer had a good survival rate, which was a positive.

“I was treated for three months. I had chemo and lost my hair and lost my fitness. I had a few operations too and was then told I was in remission.

“Six months later I went for a routine check and it was back. That was even more devastating than the first time.

“When you’re facing something like that for a second time you know how bad it’s going to be and the same treatment can’t be used again. I also knew I was unlucky because Hodgkin lymphoma comes back in less than ten per cent of cases.

“I had much stronger chemotherapy, and radiotherapy too. It was in the middle of my GSCEs too. There were days when I was in hospital having radiotherapy then would have to go into school for an exam in the afternoon.

“Happily the treatment was successful and now I’ve been in remission for eight years. But I know a lot of people who have been through treatment or been affected by cancer, directly or indirectly. Events like the Magnolia Cup are so important in raising not just money for Cancer Research but also awareness of the work being done to fight cancer.

“Apparently they hope this race could raise £200,000 and that’s amazing. It’s an honour to be part of it.”

Camilla says her preparation for the race has gone well. One of the highlights came when she and the other riders were put through their paces at Newmarket.

“I got to meet a lot of the other riders that day,” she said. “We’d been in contact through a joint Whatsapp group but it was nice to meet face to face. It’s such a diverse group – there are some really inspirational women taking part.”

The race comes as Camilla starts work as a doctor at Salisbury District Hospital, making it an even bigger week for her than it would be anyway.

“I can imagine nerves being very high. I’m not hugely competitive, I wouldn’t say, in terms of wanting to win it. but I’d love to do well and just so excited to be able to ride in it.

“My family live near Bexhill and they and a lot of my friends will be coming to watch. My uncle used to be a point-to-point jockey so I’m sure he’ll have advice for me and be able to give me his verdict on how I ride.”

Catch the Magnolia Cup action on this website this afternoon