Victoria Pendleton makes riding debut at Newbury tomorrow

Victoria Pendleton, Britain’s most successful female Olympian, makes her debut in the saddle at Newbury tomorrow, Thursday, July 2, the Key4Life Charity Race Evening & 80s Night, in the George Frewer Charity Race over a mile and five furlongs.

Earlier this year, the dual Olympic Gold medal-winning track cyclist announced her partnership with online betting company Betfair to train to become an amateur jockey and has undergone four months of intensive work, riding out five times a week at racehorse trainer Lawney Hill’s yard at Aston Rowant in Oxfordshire

Her ultimate ambition is to ride at the Cheltenham Festival in 2016.

Having learnt the basics of horse riding under the expert tuition of her ‘Switching Saddles’ mentor Yogi Breisner, Victoria 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.

Mighty Mambo will be Pendleton’s mount at Newbury. The eight-year-old is trained by Lawney Hill and is winner on the Flat and over hurdles.

Lawney Hill commented: “Victoria has been riding out here since mid-April. She usually rides out two lots, although she would do more if she could.

Victoria Pendleton training

“Victoria has a lot of other business commitments and is a very busy person but is absolutely loving it. The one thing she said to us is that she is really enjoying learning something new at this stage in her life. The cycling was something that was always in her family but the riding has really been something just for her.

“She really loves riding and has asked to carry on coming here to ride out after everything is over. I spoke to Victoria’s husband Scott the other day and he said the riding has really got her alive again. It is often difficult for top-class athletes to fill the void when they retire and one thing I learnt is that with cycling when you finish your career, that’s it.

“I saw A P McCoy at Royal Ascot and I spoke to him about Victoria riding out. They both appeared on TV with Clare Balding when A P probably suggested that Victoria probably had more than a mountain to climb.

“I wanted him to come and see her progress and to see how much effort she is putting into it. He came to see us and was very impressed and also gave Victoria some very helpful advice. He gave his time for absolutely nothing and it was great for Victoria to have his encouragement.

“It is all very well Alan (Lawney Hill’s husband) and I saying she is doing well, but when she gets positive comments from the likes of A P McCoy and Yogi Breisner, it is a boost for her confidence.

“Victoria is a true professional. She arrives on time, every day and always looks immaculate. I am mostly on the ground, so it is my husband Alan and son Joe who have been riding with her. She is happy riding out with anyone at the yard, saddles her own horse and washes her horse off.

“There is no diva here – we don’t have time for them at Woodway Farm! She is just really enjoying the challenge and nervously excited about the whole thing.

“Yogi has been wonderful and has masterminded the whole thing. He has been very happy with her progress. He said the aim for Newbury is a ‘safe clear’ – not a ‘quick four faults’.  We are looking to get the whole operation done without anything going wrong. Thursday at Newbury is going to be a very big step for Victoria. She obviously can’t sneak in under the radar because of her public profile and so we have got to make sure everything goes as right as it possibly can.

“Mighty Mambo is never going to win any races at Royal Ascot, but hopefully he will take care of her and Victoria trusts him, having ridden him out at home. It is very sporting of Mambo’s owners Fortnum Racing to join in this venture.

“She won’t be favourite for the horse’s reputation, but she will definitely be having a go as she is very competitive. When you have that competitive streak all your life, it never disappears.

“Victoria has been a true professional and a joy to work with. Victoria is hoping to have a couple of point-to-pointers here and with his connections the aim is for Paul Nicholls to get her something to ride in the Foxhunter at Cheltenham next year.  But at the moment, all focus is on Newbury.

“Newbury were wonderful to let us have a trial morning. The other riders in the race have either ridden before or, like Mark Todd, have been competitive in other equestrian sports. That is something Victoria has not had the chance to do and she hasn’t been racing much. In the timescale she has had, she has had a lot to pack in and that is why we thought a little practice at a racecourse would be beneficial. It just gave her a chance to see the surroundings – it just helps makes it a little bit easier on the day.”

There are 10 other riders taking part in the George Frewer Charity Race, which is due off at 5.55pm. They include another dual Olympic medal winner in Mark Todd, who took gold in individual eventing at the 1984 and 1988 games. The New Zealander was voted rider of the 20th century by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports. Another well-known name is Mike Felton, champion point-to-point rider on three occasions while Charlotte Plunkett is well-known to many in the racing industry due to her role as PA to trainer Alan King.

The other riders are Amanda Clegg, Thomas Benyon, Charlotte Pownall, Bobby Hall, Maisie Turner, Jacob Jelfs and Chris King. For the racecard, please click here

The contest is sponsored by the Bernard Sunley Charitable Foundation in aid of Key4Life, a charity which aims to reduce youth reoffending through the delivery of an innovative rehabilitation programme to those in prison and those at risk of going to prison.

The George Frewer Charity Race is followed by a six-race programme, from 6.30pm to 9.10pm – the latest of Newbury’s evening fixtures.

The Key4Life Charity Race Evening & 80s Night tomorrow, Thursday, also features an 80s disco after racing in partnership with JackFM. Eighties icon Mr T will also be present, in the form of the UK’s leading impersonator, John L.