Jockey kills herself before 'dream' Cheltenham ride

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The Independent Online

Anna de Lisle Wells mounted her first pony before the age of five. Each year the "family pilgrimage" to watch the racing at the Cheltenham festival was one of her annual highlights, and this year was going to be even more exhilarating.

Ms de Lisle Wells, 23, had qualified to ride in one of the country's most prestigious amateur races at the festival on the family horse, Mighty Montefalco. But a fortnight before, she hanged herself at her parents' stables in the Cotswolds. Her death shocked the close-knit world of amateur racing.

Ms de Lisle Wells, from Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, met her boyfriend, Matthew Price, six months ago, and was excited about taking part in the Christie's Foxhunter chase.

While some friends and relatives said she had a history of depression and had retreated into herself over the race, her brother James, 27, from Cheltenham, said she had only "recently suffered from depression".

He said: "Riding was her main love. She was really looking forward to the race and was excited. She was the definition of beauty, her eyes were particularly striking, just amazingly blue. She was incredibly brave - she had some pretty bad falls but she always got back on the horse.

"To get an idea of how popular she was, when she finished, the cheer for her was far bigger than for who finished second or first." He added: "Ultimately she might have been putting herself under too much pressure and she was working hard. It was clear Anna was suffering from depression. The problem was she was always loved by everyone else but she was, at times, not able to love herself." The jockey's father, John de Lisle Wells, had been an amateur jockey as well as a horse breeder, and her mother Alison works for the trainer Jonjo O'Neill.

On the day of her death on Wednesday of last week, Ms de Lisle accompanied her mother to her stables in Mawkin Farm Ford in Gloucestershire. They returned to the stables and Ms de Lisle went to clean her mother's horse. She was found dead by a farm worker a few hours later.

A source said: "There were two letters in Anna's pocket. One of them indicated her desire to take her own life."

She was a talented rider from an early age and at 16, became West Midlands Novice Champion. After gaining a degree from Reading University in agricultural economics, she found a job as a grain buyer.

Brough Scott, editor of the Racing Post, said that for an amateur rider to have a ride coming up at the Cheltenham Festival was "an absolute dream". But a friend of the family said Anna was anxious about the race: "It is tragic but she had been fretting about racing at Cheltenham. Although she was a regular rider, she did have a tendency to retreat into herself before big races. She could put herself under immense pressure."

An inquest into her death was opened and adjourned this week at Cheltenham coroner's court. The family have asked for any donations to be sent to the mental health charity Mind.