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Pendleton fancies a return to the Cheltenham Festival

By Frank Brownlow

Double Olympic cycling champion Victoria Pendleton has vowed to return to the Cheltenham Festival next year after riding Royal Etiquette to victory at Newmarket.

Pendleton famously finished fifth on Pacha Du Polder in the Foxhunter Chase at the Festival last March, having sat on a racehorse for the first time just 12 months previously.

Pendleton and Royal Etiquette proved far too good for their eight rivals in the one-mile Countryside Alliance charity race yesterday, winning by 12 lengths.

"If I get the opportunity to ride at Cheltenham and have a horse good enough, I will definitely take it up," said the 35-year-old after yesterday's race.

"It's so exhilarating, I can't even explain, it's such a thrill and I just love the company of the horses and how generous and accommodating they can be.

"They're a marvel. A wonder. I'm in love."

Reflecting on yesterday's race, she said: "It was really good fun. Royal Etiquette won last year, so there was a bit of expectation on him but he's just a lovely horse.

"He was one of the first horses I was allowed to ride when I first starting riding out because he was quite accepting of a novice, shall we say."

Pendleton - who originally 'switched saddles' as part of a campaign backed by a bookmaking firm - rode Royal Etiquette in an amateur riders handicap at Ripon last August, the pair finishing a close second on what was her first racecourse ride.

Pendleton, who won Olympic gold in the sprint at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the keirin at the 2012 London Games, won at Wincanton on Pacha Du Polder, trained by Paul Nicholls, in February before going to the Cheltenham Festival.

"I'm going to carry on racing and see where it goes," she said.

"If opportunities come my way I'll definitely take them because it's been such an incredible journey the last 18 months and I don't feel like stopping any time soon.

"It's been a joy to be accepted into a new sport and welcomed. I love going to the yard in the morning, there's nothing nicer."

Meanwhile, Epsom Derby hero Harzand heads a field of nine runners in tomorrow's Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh.

Trainer Dermot Weld has expressed concerns that the Irish equivalent could come a week too soon, but Harzand is set to take his chance as things stand.

Weld said: "Every little bit of rain that falls will help, but my worry is really not the ground.

"My biggest worry is he is very tough, but he had a very hard race at Epsom, it left its mark on him and I'd love another week."

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