Victoria Pendleton answers critics in style

Victoria Pendleton’s Cheltenham Festival dream faces its make-or-break moment on Monday after the two-time Olympic cycling champion demonstrated her capability in the plate with her first victory as a jockey aboard Pacha Du Polder at Wincanton.
Victoria Pendleton answers critics in style

Pendleton needed to show she could hold her own on the racecourse after being unseated from the same horse at Fakenham last month, but she answered any doubters in style with an all-the-way success in the Betfair Switching Saddles Hunters’ Chase.

However, the decision on whether she will line up in the St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase on the final day of the Festival is out of her hands now, with the horse’s trainer Paul Nicholls, jumping guru Yogi Breisner and Lawney and Alan Hill, from whose yard she has been riding out, due to discuss the issue over the weekend before delivering their verdict on Monday.

The London 2012 gold medallist set out to make a positive impact, taking a prominent role from the off and, after surviving a couple of sticky leaps, she returned to a warm reception from the Wincanton crowd, with the 5-4 favourite running out a 29-length victor.

Pendleton said: “I really wanted to get round to do my horse justice and for my team of Paul Nicholls, Alan and Lawney Hill, and Yogi Breisner.

“I wanted to do them justice as they have put so much work and effort into supporting me.

“I feel very honoured and lucky to be allowed to ride such a wonderful animal.

“I was very frustrated [after Fakenham], but also I know that this sport is full of thrills and spills — that can happen, it’s racing.

“When I started this challenge, people said ‘you know you’re going to fall off, don’t you?’ and I said ‘yes, I know’, but it’s a very small price to pay for the joy you get in riding a thoroughbred racehorse.”

An emotional Pendleton added: “I’ve had the most wonderful year learning how to ride and school horses. Just the joy of galloping racehorses has hit me hard and gone right in.

“With a racehorse, the partnership is something that is so special. If someone would have told me this last year, I wouldn’t have believed them. It’s been life changing.”

Reflecting on the race, she said: “Going around that bend, I could hear the thundering of hooves of the others and I thought ‘they don’t sound as close’, they were further away than they were before.

“I was scared to look around, but then I heard the commentator say that I was eight lengths clear and I thought ‘it is actually happening’.

“He jumped beautifully and he is a very talented horse.

“I don’t know if I will make Cheltenham. It is not for me to decide, it is up to my team of experts to sit down and decide and an announcement will be made on Monday. If I don’t make it this year, I will certainly ride in point-to-points. Maybe I will ride in it another time, but it is by no means the end.

“When I started this challenge, the whole remit was Victoria Pendleton training to be an amateur jockey who, hopefully, can qualify to ride at Cheltenham. As the weeks have gone on, there have been highs and lows, and today it seems a little bit closer. I will just have to wait and see but I feel like I’ve won already in coming as far as this”

Pendleton appears to have a positive vote from Nicholls, as he was impressed with her effort and believes that performance qualifies her to take her place at Cheltenham.

“That was good, I liked the way she did the job. It really was a nice ride and she will have learnt a lot from that,” said the Ditcheat handler.

“She did a good job schooling at home on Monday.

“Hindsight is a wonderful thing and maybe we should have bowled along at Fakenham, but I was just concious that if we get to Cheltenham, we couldn’t ride him like that.

“This is a tricky course and she did well in that wind. She looked a completely different rider.

“We will all get together to make a decision. There is nothing to say she shouldn’t line up and on today’s performance she is more than qualified in my book to ride.”

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