Victoria Pendleton is to ride in the Foxhunter Chase at the Cheltenham Festival (18 March).
The decision was announced today (Monday, 7 March) that the double Olympic track cycling champion would complete her Betfair Switching Saddles challenge in the St James’s Place Foxhunter, having never sat on a horse little more than a year ago.
Victoria, 35, won her first race when successful on her intended Cheltenham mount Pacha Du Polder, trained by Paul Nicholls, in a hunter chase at Wincanton last Wednesday (3 March).
She confirmed that she will ride at the Festival at a press conference in London, flanked by her advisors, Yogi Breisner, the Team GB eventing performance manager, trainers Alan and Lawney Hill who have been providing her point-to-point rides, Barry Orr of the sponsors, and Paul.
“By no means was this an easy decision to make, and in fact I have been in complete turmoil over the last few weeks, and days, thinking about how I would tackle this situation, this wonderful opportunity,” she said.
“I wouldn’t have made the decision without the support of the experts around me who have been with me throughout this challenge.
“I appreciate it is not a decision that should be taken lightly. National Hunt racing is an extremely dangerous sport, there are lots of risks involved. But I feel I am capable of lining up and being part of that race as an amateur.”
Victoria has suffered a series of spills. The highest profile unseat occurred on her hunter chase debut at Fakenham last month, while on Saturday (6 March) at a point-to-point at Kingston Blount she came off after losing a iron between fences.
She added: “I would like to thank the jockeys who have supported me like AP McCoy, Aidan Coleman, Tom Scudamore. There have been though times and I really appreciate their positivity. They’ve helped me through that.
“The industry as a whole has been very supportive very welcoming, and it’s been a very, very difficult challenge but I’ve enjoyed every second of I and found a new passion to pursue in my life, so I feel very blessed.”
Paul Nicholls, trainer of Pacha Du Polder said: “From the start the courage and enthusiasm of Victoria has been to the fore, and the improvement from month to month has been absolutely incredible.
“In the beginning I was a little bit dubious about the whole thing, but to be fair to her she has improved so much I think now she is well ready for the challenge. Pacha Du Polder is absolutely the ideal horse. He’s a good jumper. He’s got lots of ability. He travels well, as you saw at Wincanton last week.
“The first time Victoria rode him in a point-to-point and she was beaten a head by Bryony Frost, and that day then I thought I’ve got no doubt about it. She rode very well.
“Fakenham was unfortunate. One of those things. A learning curve. But she picked herself up from that, came down and schooled him again, and you saw the result at Wincanton. I’m looking forward to next week.
“He’s a safe jumper, he probably better left-handed. We’re going to talk tactics next week but if we have a nice clear round, everything goes well, and he manages to finish fifth or sixth that will be a huge achievement in itself. Anything on top of that will be a bonus.”
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Victoria is under no illusions as to the task facing her in the Foxhunter, for which Pacha Du Polder is priced around 16-1.
“In terms of the pressure, being part of such a huge race, its the biggest even I’m going to compete in so far,” she said.
“I’m excited more than anything. For me to get him round would be incredible. Its a tough race and a big field so you have to bring that into consideration.
“If I get round on the horse and complete the course I’ll feel like that’s a gold medal.”