Wincanton victory boosts Pendleton’s chances of riding at Cheltenham

Fakenham Races, Victoria Pendleton taking part in the Betfair Switching Saddles Grassroots Fox Hunters Chase at 4.10 
Wearing Red/White/Black ANL-160220-091911009
Fakenham Races, Victoria Pendleton taking part in the Betfair Switching Saddles Grassroots Fox Hunters Chase at 4.10 Wearing Red/White/Black ANL-160220-091911009

Victoria Pendleton boosted her hopes of competing at this year’s Cheltenham Festival after winning her first race as an amateur jockey.

The Mildenhall Cycling Club lifetime member had been unseated from proposed Cheltenham mount Pacha Du Polder at Fakenham on her National Hunt debut just 12 days ago.

However,the double Olympic cycling champion, who has been riding for just over a year, responded in the best possible fashion aboard the same horse at Wincanton on Wednesday, leading from the outset to win by 29 lengths.

Pendleton, took up the 12-month challenge set by leading bookmaker Betfair last year to become a jockey in time for the St James’s Palace Foxhunter Steeple Chase on March 18.

Having been unseated from Pacha Du Polder in her first Hunter Chase at Fakenham last week, the 35-year-old came under intense scrutiny from many within the sport who questioned whether or not Pendleton was ready for the challenge.

Former jump jockey John Francome was particularly vocal in his assessment, branding Pendleton ‘an accident waiting to happen’.

A defiant Pendleton has since vowed to carry on her career in the saddle and prior to her first win received the backing of Andy Stewart, who owns 33-1 shot Pacha Du Polder.

“Racing professionals, many of whom I hold in the highest regard, are divided as to whether she should or should not ride at Cheltenham, and while much of the recent debate has been healthy, I would like to take this opportunity to fully endorse Victoria and what she is trying to achieve,”

“First and foremost, she undoubtedly deserves great credit for having the guts to take up the challenge in the first place and for having made such fantastic progress over the past 11 months.

“There are significant risks involved with riding horses at any level, but I have every confidence in the team of experts that Betfair have assembled to help Victoria and I believe they are best placed to assess whether she is ready to ride at the Festival.

“I am comfortable in the knowledge that the decision on her participation in the Foxhunters will be made by that team, in conjunction with Victoria.

“Whatever the outcome of her next ride on Pacha Du Polder, their experience, professionalism and wise council will be reflected in that final decision and that irrespective of the decision they reach, what she has done in her attempt to meet the challenge has been really positive for the sport.”

A decision on whether Pendleton will fulfil her ambition to ride in the Foxhunter Chase at the Cheltenham Festival will be made on Monday.