Charity-race rider Ashleigh Wicheard took the knee in the Goodwood paddock on Thursday in a bid to promote diversity and help black women within the sport, before charging to victory in the Markel Magnolia Cup.
The 36-year-old, who was aboard Scott Dixon’s Dark Shot, works at the Bath stable of Neil Mulholland and has been employed intermittently in the sport for 15 years.
The race, sponsored by Markel, is an initiative that raises funds for female-focused charities and this year donations went the way of The Prince’s Trust’s Brilliant Breakfast, a nationwide event run annually in October to support disadvantaged women aged 11-30.
The event – which was won by Khadijah Mellah in 2019, when she became the first jockey to race in Britain wearing a hijab – has raised over £1.8million since its inception, and this year Wicheard brought attention to another cause as she led the 12 riders in taking the knee before the race.
Having raised over £4,000 herself, Wicheard was the first of the riders to take the gesture that originally made headlines in the National Football League in America when quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose to kneel for the duration of the national anthem in protest of social injustice against minorities.
In solidarity the other riders followed suit, after which their horses were mounted and Wicheard went on to claim a runaway success in the five-and-a-half-furlong contest.
“It was unbelievable. I was instructed to get a good start and just sent him and hoped for the best!” she said.
“I looked round a couple of times as I didn’t want to move in onto the rail if somebody was coming up, thankfully I got out quick enough to get a good position and I just tried to maintain the speed.
“It’s really hard to describe how I feel, one moment it feels real with everything that’s going on, but all the work that I’ve put in, all the holidays I’ve been using to ride out for people…I put everything into it and for it to come out like it has, it’s unbelievable.”
Of her decision to take the knee, Wicheard said: “This is a sport that I’m invested in and I’ve been trying hard to promote diversity within the sport, really just by being a face in the paddock.
“If I can act as role model for black women and get more of them into the sport, then I’ll be over the moon. It’s not going to happen overnight and I’m fully aware of that, but I’d like to think me taking the knee will make more people aware and improve things as a result.
“My role at Neil’s is to take the horses to the races so I’m regularly seen in the paddock, that for me is a good start.
“When the race came along it felt like a really good platform for me to be able to do something like this on the main stage, where better?
“It was probably the most impactful thing I could have done. You can talk a lot and read a lot, but actions speak louder than words.”
The gesture was planned in advance and Wicheard knew she had the support of her fellow riders as they had all agreed to unite and follow her lead.
“I thought about it in February, I didn’t want to put pressure on any of the girls in case they or their families weren’t comfortable with that message,” she said.
“It wouldn’t have been a problem as it’s their choice, but they were so supportive. What an amazing group of women, they knelt in solidarity.
“I was more anxious about that than riding in the race because I know that those kind of statements can be met with negativity as well as positivity.
“I just hope that it is a positive message that is portrayed from this.”