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Victoria Pendleton is going for gold at Cheltenham Festival

By Graham Clark

Victoria Pendleton would rank completing the course at the Cheltenham Festival alongside her golden glory days in the Olympics.

Pendleton, 35, said it was "hugely exciting" to have been given clearance to ride the Paul Nicholls-trained Pacha Du Polder in the St James's Place Foxhunter Chase on Friday week.

Yet despite her monumental cycling achievements, the dual Olympic champion would be just as proud to pass the finishing line in what is widely recognised as the Gold Cup for amateur jockeys.

Pendleton said: "We have always had the extremely ambitious target of riding competitively in the Foxhunter, so to be announcing that I have achieved this goal is a truly amazing feeling.

"This has been no walk in the park, it has been physically demanding. I've had to dig deep, but I never wanted to give up.

"This is hugely exciting. There'll be a phenomenal crowd at Cheltenham and I am so excited. Getting round would be incredible.

"If I get round on the horse and complete the course I'll feel like that's a gold medal."

Pendleton focused her sights on horse racing as part of a 'switching saddles' campaign which was announced last March and has been backed by bookmakers Betfair.

The road to Cheltenham has not been smooth for Pendleton, with several hiccups along the way, but she gained her first win as a jockey on the Andy Stewart-owned Pacha Du Polder at Wincanton last week.

She has been tutored daily by Alan and Lawney Hill, leading figures on the point-to-point racing scene, as well as champion trainer Nicholls and leading equestrian coach Yogi Breisner.

Sir AP McCoy has also lent his weight behind the project, though her emergence in the saddle has been criticised in some racing quarters.

Retired seven-time former champion jump jockey John Francome said Pendleton was "an accident waiting to happen" on a racecourse after she was unseated at Fakenham last month.

But Pendleton, speaking at a press conference in London, said: "It is not a decision I have taken lightly - I feel capable of being part of that race.

"The whole journey has been a remarkable experience and I have a lot of lasting memories.

"I would also like to add that I'm delighted that the Stewart family has kindly made Pacha Du Polder available for Cheltenham.

"It's great that an owner of Andy's stature is putting his faith in me to ride one of his horses in such a significant race."

Pendleton admits riding in front of 70,000 racegoers at Cheltenham is a daunting prospect, but hopes to draw upon her vast cycling experience.

She said: "If you take out all the other elements of what it will take to ride there, in terms of dealing with pressure that (a sold-out Cheltenham) is one thing I might have down.

"It's going to be nerve-racking, of course, but I've dealt with a lot of pressure and expectation in my time. In fact, I quite enjoy it. I think it brings out the best in what I have to offer as an athlete.

"It's one part of it the challenge that I haven't struggled with too much.

"I've enjoyed every second of the journey, and that's the truth.

"I feel like I've already won, getting this far."

Belfast Telegraph


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