A year ago Victoria Pendleton was approached by BetFair for an exciting new challenge. They suggested she switched her cycling saddle for a racing saddle, with the aim to ride at Cheltenham Festival 2016.
I have been unable to escape coverage and opinions of this on social media. When the announcement was made, I saw many articles and social media posts saying that it wasn’t fair. Their thoughts were that it is very hard to become a jockey. Many stable lads and lasses spend years working for trainers, hoping to one day to become a jockey. Many of these do not reach this dream for various reasons. The majority of these opinions seemed to think it was unfair to hand this amazing opportunity to some celebrity with no experience.
Although I can see where they are coming from, I think I disagree. Victoria is an Olympic medallist. You don’t get that sort of thing without working extremely hard and dedicating your life to it. She worked to get to where she was and I think she deserves the opportunity to try another sport. It’s also important to remember how much good publicity she has brought to the sport. No one can deny that the racing industry could do with more good publicity.
I believe Victoria must be loving what she is doing now. Because quite frankly, you can’t gallop horses over jumps in a group if you don’t love it and not be a bit crazy! She couldn’t have got as far as she has on a whim or the money from BetFair. For the past year she has ridden 6 days a week, every week (which is more than the average horse owner!) She has had the best coaching too! Her first ever experience of sitting on a horse was a lunge lesson with Yogi Breisner, who coaches the Olympic eventing teams. He continued to coach her through the basics and her first jumps. She also worked with Point-to-Point trainer Allen Hiils and champion jump trainer Paul Nicholls to learn what it takes to be a jockey and take her through every step of the process. So she was very well prepared.
Her first few races on flat went okay, coming second in one of them. However, on her fourth start she fell. The saddle slipped and she lost her balance. However, it has been argued that a more experienced jockey could have stayed on, but since she has not used that saddle so may not happen again. Her first few attempts at jump racing went without problems, although she pulled up in her first point-to-point due to bad ground. Her first attempt at a real racetrack didn’t go so well. At Fakenham she fell at an early fence. It was after this fall that social media erupted, once again saying a more experienced jockey wouldn’t have made that mistake/fallen. She has since raced again and won.
Today Victoria is set to run in the 4.10 with her usual ride Pacha Du Polder. This race is known to be one of the biggest challenges for ‘new’ jockeys and there are 23 other horses running with her. These other jockeys will likely have far more experience than Victoria and will be aiming to win. As much as I would like Victoria to do well today, I cannot help that it is too soon for her. Her inexperience could cause an accident and it’s a big field, if she is near the front of the pack, it could be a big accident.
I hope whatever happens today, she continues to peruse being a jockey. She has shown talent for it and could go far. But I feel she needs more experience behind her before attempting the bigger races.
What do you think about Victoria’s BetFair challenge and her riding today?