Having never sat on a horse a year ago, Victoria Pendleton successfully completed her “Switching Saddles” challenge this afternoon (Friday, 18 March) finishing fifth in the St James’ Place Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham.
“It’s probably the greatest achievement of my life,” said Victoria, who was partnering the Paul Nicholls-trained Pacha Du Polder. “I’m overwhelmed and honoured.”
The race was won by Nina Carberry, who was celebrating back-to-back victories in the Foxhunter with Enda Bolger’s On The Fringe.
The 13/8 favourite On The Fringe (pictured, below) won by a neck from Marito with last year’s third Paint The Clouds coming home in the same position. In fourth was Current Event.
“It’s exciting, and it’s got a bit of everything — we’re not only clapping Nina on the back, but Victoria also,” said Enda. “It was a brilliant performance by both women and it gives the Foxhunter Chase a great lift.”
Nina has now won six races at The Festival and three Foxhunter Chases.
“I’m just so happy, so happy, I can’t believe it. I didn’t think I had a chance turning in, I was boxed in with nowhere to go. I was bit worried going to the second last and I needed a jump at the last and he winged them, he’s always there for you,” she said.
“He [Enda Bolger] is unbelievable for getting a horse right. He kept him for today and a spring campaign and he’s done a great job.”
She also applauded Victoria’s efforts.
“It’s the first time I’ve met her today and I think she’s great,” she said. “She’s got an unbelievable attitude to the whole thing and I’m delighted she got around — fifth place is a great achievement.
“She had a great horse to ride and look after her, and may she go onwards from here. She has the competitive edge and she loves it to bits.”
Victoria won her first race as a jockey at Wincanton earlier this month (2 March). .
It was only her second ride under Rules, after she was unseated from Pacha Du Polder at Fakenham last month (19 February).
After being unseated, Victoria received criticism, with some industry figures questioning whether she was ready for Cheltenham.
However, she proved doubters wrong today.
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls, who has been working with Victoria ahead of the race, added: “Congratulations first to Nina Carberry, but for Victoria to finish fifth after all the publicity and people doubting her ability was superb. Believe you me, Team Ditcheat would not have let her go out there today if she was not ready. She has improved enormously and was brilliant today.
“She’s not won, but she’s ridden ‘a winner’ today in everyone’s eyes, and you saw the reaction from the crowd — it’s what the sport is all about.”
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Pacha Du Polder will now be aimed at the Aintree Fox Hunters’ Chase, but will be ridden by Will Biddick.
The run was part of her “Switching Saddles” campaign set up by Betfair last year.
Victoria, who retired from competitive cycling after London 2012, was set the challenge to start riding and secure an amateur jockeys licence.
The company wanted to provide an “unexpected and entertaining perspective on horseracing, while also profiling the skills, athleticism and courage faced by jockeys every day”.
Having never sat on a horse before last year, the ultimate aim was for Victoria to take part in the Foxhunter at the Cheltenham Festival. She has had training from experts including Yogi Breisner along the way.