After months of hype, speculation and deliberation, it was finally announced last week that former Olympic cycling champion Victoria Pendleton, would make her festival debut on Friday afternoon, when she rides Pacha Du Polder in the Foxhunters Chase at Cheltenham.
Pendleton became a household name during the London Olympics in 2012. She was an integral figure in the British team that dominated the Cycling events, where she won a Gold and a Silver medal during the course of the games. She announce her retirement from athletics soon after the curtains came down on the games. She spent the next few years becoming a bit of a darling in the media, appearing in television programs, on the front cover of magazine and even speaking at political conferences.
However, a little over a year ago, it was announced that Pendleton, with the backing of betting company Betfair, would immediately start training to become a jockey. Speaking to Betfair soon after the announcement, she explained why she has taken up this monumental challenge:
“It captured my imagination. I’m motivated by the scale of the challenge and the opportunity to combine my love of horses with learning a new skill, under the guidance of a team of horse-racing experts Betfair has put in place for me.”
It was made clear from the outset that an appearance in the Foxhunters was the goal of her debut season, and after months of training and point-to-point runs, she made her professional debut in early August, riding 14/1 shot Royal Etiquette in a flat race at Ripon. She moved through the field after a slow start and was in a three horse sprint for the post, but she narrowly missed out on a famous debut victory, coming second by a nose. Although her switch between the saddles hadn’t been received positively across the entire racing world, this was heralded as a great achievement from figures in the media, including legend A. P. McCoy.
It wasn’t long before she made her chasing debut, saddling the Paul Nicholls trained Pacha Du Polder for the first time, as the pairing went off as the odds-on favourite in a 3 mile contest at Fakenham. But after a sluggish start, a poor first jump lead to Pendleton being hurled from the saddle. She took this huge disappointment on the chin and stepped up efforts in training in a bid to recapture her Cheltenham hopes. The pairing took to the course once again in March, going off as the favourite once again. Pendleton took a much more assertive approach to the race, which clearly paid as they romped to victory, beating the field by almost 30 lengths.
This victory, combined with her clear progression over the last year, has resulted in Victoria achieving her goal of riding in the Fox Hunters. Pacha Du Polder is currently a 20/1 shot, but with all the media attention surrounding his jockey, you would be surprised to see that price shorten in the build up to Friday’s race. No-one can deny that what she has achieved in such a short space of time is quite incredibly, and I’m sure everyone involved in racing will wish her all the best of luck.
Click here to see how we think Victoria Pendleton will get on in the Foxhunters Chase in our Cheltenham Festival tips section!
Interview reference: https://betting.betfair.com/horse-racing/pendleton/switching-saddles-victoria-pendleton-announces-shes-training-to-become-a-jockey-040315-6.html