Earlier this year Victoria Pendleton announced her partnership with online betting company Betfair to train to become an amateur jockey. Tomorrow (2nd July) Victoria will be propelled into the public eye for the first time after four months of intensive training.
Just four months since Pendleton announced her ambitious target of competing at Cheltenham in 2016, Britain’s most successful female Olympian has gone from total novice to riding out five times a week at racehorse trainer Lawney Hill’s yard in Oxfordshire. Pendleton is now riding with amateur and professional jockeys daily, and is increasingly comfortable riding thoroughbred racehorses.
The George Frewer Charity Race at Newbury, sponsored by the Bernard Sunley Charitable Foundation, runs on the 2nd July as part of George Frewer Charity Race Evening, held this year in aid of Key4Life. It will be the first opportunity for Pendleton to test her newly acquired skills in a race environment and is a major milestone in her challenge to successfully switch saddles and ride in the Foxhunters Chase at Cheltenham Festival in 2016.
Victoria Pendleton, Britain’s most successful female Olympian, said:”When I partnered with Betfair to switch saddles and become an amateur jockey, I knew it’d be one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced but I’ve already enjoyed so many exciting experiences. The first time I sat on a race horse and didn’t fall off was a relief, the first time I cantered on the gallops was exhilarating and the first time I jumped in the riding school and schooled over brush fences were hugely satisfying and exciting steps for me.
“And of course starting to ride out with other jockeys at Lawney Hill’s yard was a really proud moment, and gave me a feeling of belonging. Although I have to say taking part in this Charity race, back in a competitive environment, will probably top my other experiences on this journey to date.”
Pendleton added, “The last few months haven’t all been plain sailing though, getting initially used to and then learning to jump in a racing saddle was very different and challenging, and I’d be fibbing if I said I haven’t fallen off a few times along the way. But right now I’m just focussed on continuing my preparations for Newbury and I just can’t wait to line up there.”
Under the relentless guidance from the team of experts put in place by Betfair, Pendleton is currently on target to meet her ambition of riding at Cheltenham in 2016. Having learnt the basics of horse riding under the expert tuition of her ‘Switching Saddles’ mentor Yogi Breisner, Victoria swiftly developed her non-racing equestrian skills with former event rider Chris King, before adapting those skills for the purpose of riding racehorses and training to ride like a jockey.
Yogi Breisner Performance Manager, Eventing, for Team GB, commented, “We decided that the charity flat race at Newbury was the best event for Victoria to get her first experience of race-riding for a number of reasons. The timing of Newbury’s charity event provided a challenging yet realistic target to aim for and the race is run at a distance of one and a half miles which is long enough to provide Victoria with an opportunity to take-in and learn from the unique experience of riding in a race. It’s a key milestone if we are to hit our target of Victoria successfully obtaining her Category A licence with a view to riding at Cheltenham next year.”
Stephen Mault, Head of Media, Betfair, added “Everyone involved in the ‘Switching Saddles’ challenge has been impressed by Victoria’s progress to date and riding at Newbury in the Key4Life Charity race on the 2nd July is testament to her skill and determination. We’ll be cheering her on at Newbury and no doubt she’ll be wanting to win it! Whatever the result, it’s a great learning curve for Victoria as she continues her remarkable transformation from Olympic cyclist to amateur jockey.”
Andy Clifton, Head of Communications at Newbury Racecourse, said: “We are delighted that Victoria Pendleton and her team have chosen Newbury and the George Frewer Charity Race Evening to take the latest significant step on the road to becoming a successful amateur jockey. I am sure that her racing debut will create plenty of interest and we look forward to seeing one of the country’s most remarkable sportswomen in action here at Newbury.”
Once Victoria Pendleton has overcome the challenge of the charity flat race at Newbury, the next stage of her development will be to undertake a ‘Category A Amateur licence’ course at the British Racing School – a necessity if she is to realise the ambition of riding in the Foxhunters Chase at Cheltenham Festival in 2016.