Pendleton saddles up for hunter chase test
Victoria Pendleton faces a vital test towards her Cheltenham Festival goal with a first attempt over regulation fences at Fakenham today.
The double Olympic cycling champion hopes to make next month's Foxhunter Chase within just a year of launching her riding career, and will be trialling her intended mount, Pacha Du Polder, in a hunter chase, provided the tight, square-shaped Norfolk track survives an early inspection for frost.
Pendleton has looked competent in 10 point-to-points since her debut in late November, but was unseated at Barbury Castle last Sunday. The 35-year-old's first appearance on Pacha Du Polder took her closer to a maiden victory when they finished a tight second in Dorset on January 31.
Sam Waley-Cohen, a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner and the most decorated amateur rider in many years, warned her to be on her guard.
"My first hunter chase was at Warwick and I remember being completely terrified," he said. "It went fine but it felt like a totally different prospect to what was before.
"The fences are significantly bigger on a National Hunt course, it means you have to be more accurate and can get away with less, both in terms of jockeyship and the horses's assets. You have to give them more help than you might do in a point.
"Fakenham is a great place to start. It's quite challenging - the fences keep rolling quick, with a premium on getting in a rhythm, but they are not as formidable as somewhere like Cheltenham. I think it will suit her horse well."
Pendleton takes on five rivals, with three fellow riders also claiming a 7lb allowance. Pacha Du Polder is a safe jumper and easily the highest rated. As her quest has been heavily PR-managed, it is difficult to know quite what is expected.
"There's a group of experts deciding whether they think I'm competent enough in the next couple of weeks," Pendleton said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)