On many occasions in past columns I have put forward my views on the importance of marketing and PR in making point-to-pointing a public facing and sustainable sport. Overall I think we have made giant strides in recent years, adapting to a fast-paced digital age and offering access to a much broader audience.
However, I have throughout reserved judgement on Betfair’s “Switching Saddles” initiative, which has grabbed many media headlines and propelled our sport into the national spotlight like never seen before.
There have been many sceptics, plenty of critics, and lots of moans and groans from some quarters as Victoria Pendleton has swapped pedal power for horsepower, but putting all the newspaper articles and flashing cameras to one side, one cannot underestimate the scale of her challenge.
Yes, we would all like the backing of a multi-billion pound betting exchange (Betfair), riding lessons from Team GB’s Eventing Performance Manager (Yogi Breisner), and a couple of horses trained by one of the country’s most successful point-to-point yards (Alan and Lawney Hill), but even that does not guarantee success within the space of 12 months.
Furthermore, it certainly does not give you the courage and determination necessary to push half a tonne of thoroughbred to its physical limits in an amateur horse race.
I recently met Victoria at Black Forest Lodge (17 January) where she rode Supreme Danehill, a horse formerly owned by my family and bought as a replacement for one of her originally intended mounts. A hardy horse that should be able to run regularly and give Victoria plenty of important experience, he is by no means a push-button ride.
Giving my opinion on how to ride him pre-race, I was struck by how thoroughly engaged Victoria was, taking on board my advice and subsequently executing it in a very accomplished manner. Yes, the horse did not win, but together they finished a creditable fourth (her first completion) and it was a step in the right direction towards her ultimate goal.
Victoria went a few places better at Milborne St Andrew on Sunday, narrowly beaten in a close finish. I am sure her first victory is imminent.
Victoria is undoubtedly on a very steep learning curve but, win, lose, or draw, you cannot knock her determination and positivity. A thoroughly likeable person, I wish her every success and, for the betterment of point-to-pointing, we should embrace the media bubble that follows her around, not seek to burst it.
Ref: Horse & Hound; 4 February 2016