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Grantham schoolgirl finishes runner up in first ever race at Cheltenham Racecourse

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A 10-year-old jockey finished second in her first ever pony race, which took place at Cheltenham Racecourse.

On Saturday, Morvah Luke and her pony Sonny travelled to the famous Cheltenham Racecourse for her first ever race, accompanied by her mother, Helen Luke, and godmother, Helen Merrett.

Morvah, who attends Allington Primary School, began riding aged four, but her first race came at Cheltenham, as she finished second in an intermediate race against seven other riders with more race know-how than her.

Morvah Luke finished second in the 128 Open Race at Cheltenham. (46899414)
Morvah Luke finished second in the 128 Open Race at Cheltenham. (46899414)

Originally, Morvah’s mother Helen intended to sign them up for the novice class race, which would have pitted Morvah and Sonny against riders and ponies with similar levels of experience.

However, with the novice race full, Morvah was entered into the 128 open race, which pitted her against more experienced opposition. Despite both Morvah and Sonny being unknown quantities, they flew out of the gate, pulling away from the pack.

Although they remained neck and neck with the winning pony for a time, the added experience allowed Morvah’s rival to pull away and win the race.

Morvah Luke finished second in the 128 Open Race at Cheltenham. (46901200)
Morvah Luke finished second in the 128 Open Race at Cheltenham. (46901200)

Helen said that Sonny, whom she purchased for a few hundred pounds, was initially difficult for quite a while, “depositing Morvah many times, but she always got back on. Many kids would have given up, but she kept going with him and I kept him going for her. I was on my own at the time and trying to keep everything together as a single mum does.

“Morvah wanted to race in the event last year, as she was nine years old and that’s the minimum age, but of course Covid put that to bed.

“She had to qualify [for this event], by doing two training days. The Pony Club is an amazing organisation. They are basically a charity and they encourage children from all backgrounds.

“The Jockey Club and The Pony Club collaborated to put this day on at Cheltenham Racecourse. All the children were encouraged. They were treated like jockeys, taken to the parade ring. Obviously, it was under Covid regulations, but they ran it so well and they looked after the children. They were in the Winners Enclosure after all of that, so it was a special day.”

Helen Luke with Morvah and Sonny. (46901209)
Helen Luke with Morvah and Sonny. (46901209)

Morvah has been inspired by the recent successes of Rachael Blackmore, who became the first female jockey to win the Grand National earlier this year.

At Cheltenham, Morvah and her competitors were taken on a course walk by two-time Grand National winning jockey, Carl Llewelyn.

Helen continued: “Although Morvah had the two days training, she’d never actually raced and we were meant to go in the novice class. It’s done in height of the pony. [Sonny and Morvah] should have been in the 12 hands two inches novice class, for kids and ponies that hadn’t raced, but that was full, so I had to enter her in the open race, which means she was up against kids who’d [been racing] for a long time and ponies with experience.

“We were in tears really, and because of Covid, it was live streamed, so my parents in Cornwall could see it and people all over the world were watching it. It was very emotional, as she came up the hill.”

When asked if Morvah had dreams of becoming a jockey, Helen said: “We’ll see. Although I’m very horsey, I’ve never pushed her. She learned to ride before she could walk, but at the age of four her old pony died overnight.

“She didn’t want to ride for 12 months. I left her alone and the following year she asked if she could ride. She was five then, and then she just got back on and has never looked back really.”

Helen added: “[Allington Primary School] have been really supportive. They’ve been brilliant. The headmistress there used to ride and I sent her the link to the live stream, so they’re very supportive of Morvah.”

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