An audacious bid by Victoria Pendleton to follow Friday’s fifth place at the Cheltenham Festival by tackling the famous Grand National fences next season is likely to be discussed in the next few weeks.The dual Olympic cycling champion just missed out on being placed on Paul Nicholls-trained Pacha Du Polder in the Foxhunter Chase, the culmination of a year-long ‘Switching Saddles’ challenge funded by Betfair.
The betting exchange will give Pendleton According To Sarah, one of the horses bought for the project, after she has ridden the mare in a point-to-point next Sunday.Betfair spokesman Barry Orr said they would also consider future projects with Pendleton.If Pendleton decided on riding in the equivalent but shorter race at Aintree – the Fox Hunters there is over two miles and five furlongs, over half a mile less than her Festival race, she has a ready-made mount in Pacha Du Polder. He was second on the 2015 running.
Orr added: ‘What we do with Victoria is an ongoing debate. She has been a great ambassador both for the sport and also for us. If there were projects we could work on together we would definitely look at them.‘She will ride at Kimble point-to-point next Sunday and we will be presenting According To Sarah to her. She loves the horse – she calls her ‘Big Red’. It will continue to be stabled with Alan and Lawney Hill and she will still be riding out for them.
Pendleton will have other commitments over the summer, including acting as a pundit at the Olympic games in Rio.Should Pendleton decide she wants to compete at Aintree in 2017, she would need a higher category of amateur licence than she currently holds because of stricter regulations imposed on riders who compete at the track, drawn up after previous horse welfare issues.But, given what Pendleton has achieved in little over a year since she first sat on a horse, they are far from insurmountable including 15 completed races under rules.
After Friday’s fifth place, she already has two on the back of her Wincanton Hunter Chase win on Pacha Du Polder.Pendleton’s place at the Cheltenham Festival had been questioned with former champion jockey John Francome heading those questioning whether she was safe to ride.Francome said yesterday: ‘Well done to her, it was a great effort. I’ve never been more happy to be wrong.’