Retired Olympic track cyclist Victoria Pendleton came fifth in the Cheltenham Festival Foxhunters’ Chase horse race today – passing her expectations as well as those of critics who suggested it was unsafe for her to compete.
Pendleton exchanged saddles just one year ago, with the goal of competing in the Cheltenham event.
She said at the time: “I’m not doing this to win. There’s very little hope of that. I’m doing it to learn something completely new. Just to be able to step up to the start line and not be out of place: that will be something. I’ll be very proud of myself.”
Despite some success in the lead up, including second place in her first competitive race, some have been doubtful of her competence. After a fall at an event in Fakenham last month, former champion jump jockey and race analyst John Francome made some cutting remarks – saying: “She wants saving from herself. I’ve never met her, she seems a lovely girl but she can’t ride and she’s an accident waiting to happen. She could have fallen off at any fence.”
He added: “It’s not just about Cheltenham, she could come off on a Sunday afternoon at a point to point. She wants stopping before she hurts herself.”
Today, however, Pendleton appeared to prove him wrong. Her fifth place finish surpassed all her expectations, and she managed it despite what could be considered a ‘mechanical’ at the start when her whip became stuck in a piece of tack.
Speaking to the Gloucestershire Echo, she said: “It ranks right up there with being in the Olympic velodrome. It was a dream- ridiculous, audacious, but I got round on the horse. If I didn’t have a ride that was smart and experienced I wouldn’t have finished fifth. The first couple of fences came quickly, I wasn’t the most tidy. I relaxed into it and he jumped brilliantly.”
Ever modest, she said: “I tried not to expend too much energy but now I’m just kicking myself. A better jockey on the horse would have won that race today.”
She added: “It wasn’t until I got to the finishing straight I became aware of the noise. The reception was almost like I had won. That was really unexpected and quite humbling really.”
Check out our 31 questions with Victoria Pendleton to learn more about the cyclist turned jockey, here.