Is Victoria Pendleton “an accident waiting to happen” ahead of Cheltenham Festival appearance
- Credit: PA
Victoria Pendleton has been given the go-ahead to ride at the Cheltenham Festival.
The double Olympic cycling champion will partner Pacha Du Polder in the St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase on Friday week.
Pacha Du Polder’s trainer Paul Nicholls and a team of experts made the decision to allow the 35-year-old the chance to fulfil her dream of appearing at next week’s Festival.
She said: “We have always had the extremely ambitious target of riding competitively in the Foxhunter as our goal, so to be announcing that I have achieved this goal is a truly amazing feeling.”
Pendleton focussed her sights on horse racing as part of a ‘switching saddles’ campaign which was announced last March and has been backed by bookmakers Betfair.
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The road to Cheltenham has not been smooth for Pendleton, with several hiccups along the way, but she gained her first win as a jockey on the Andy Stewart-owned Pacha Du Polder at Wincanton last week.
She has been tutored daily by Alan and Lawney Hill, leading figures on the point-to-point racing scene, as well as champion trainer Nicholls and leading equestrian coach Yogi Breisner.
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Sir Anthony McCoy has also lent his weight behind the project, though her emergence in the saddle has been criticised in some racing quarters.
Retired seven-times former champion jumps jockey John Francome said Pendleton was “an accident waiting to happen” on a racecourse after she was unseated at Fakenham last month.
But Pendleton said: “It is not a decision I have taken lightly – I feel capable of being part of that race.
“The whole journey has been a remarkable experience and I have a lot of lasting memories from the last 12 months.
“I would also like to add that I’m delighted that the Stewart family has kindly made Pacha Du Polder available for Cheltenham.
“It’s great that an owner of Andy’s stature is putting his faith in me to ride one of his horses in such a significant race.”
Pendleton would compare completing the course at Cheltenham to her golden glory days in the Olympics.
“This has been no walk in the park,” said said. “It has been physically demanding. I’ve had to dig deep, but I never wanted to give up.
“This is hugely exciting. There’ll be a phenomenal crowd at Cheltenham and I am so excited. Getting round would be incredible.
“If I get round on the horse and complete the course I’ll feel like that’s a gold medal.”
Pendleton admits riding in front of 70,000 racegoers at Cheltenham is a daunting prospect, but hopes to draw upon her vast cycling experience of the big occasion.
She said: “If you take out all the other elements of what it will take to ride there, in terms of dealing with pressure that (a sold-out Cheltenham) is one thing I might have down.
“In fact, I quite enjoy it.”