British Olympic heroine Victoria Pendleton to swap the velodrome for the Cheltenham Festival
Even in her wildest dreams whilst competing at the London Olympic Games, the Cheltenham Festival would have seemed a million miles away for cycling champion Victoria Pendleton.
But, like all retired sporting heroes, new challenges are sought after to satisfy the desire to always be the best.
Very rarely does that challenge lead to something as daring as attempting to win at Cheltenham’s showcase race meeting, though.
Despite having no previous experience of horses, Pendleton – who is Britain’s most successful female Olympian of all time – will look to obtain an amateur jockey’s license in August later on in 2015 before hoping to participate in the Foxhunters’ Chase at next year’s Cheltenham Festival.
Her new test is personal. In many ways, as well as a fresh sporting pursuit, this adventure is the realisation of a childhood dream.
“I’ve done the quiet life since the Olympics but I wasn’t searching for something in particular,” she said. “I was surprised how it made me feel when I was asked (by Betfair to ride at the festival) and I’m really excited about it.
“I love horses. I asked Father Christmas for a pony and he never delivered. My dad used to say, ‘Why do you want horses? You have to muck them out.’ So it was never a world my family and I were really in, although when we were asked about work experience I chose to work on a farm.
“I think if I’d have been clever enough I would have been a vet, as I love animals, so this opportunity really appeals to the animal lover in me.”
An adolescent aspiration it may well have been, but the hard work and perseverance needed to pass some of the most stringent safety standards in world sport will lend itself nicely to the Bedfordshire-born champion’s psyche of dedication to training and achieving results.
In champion trainer Paul Nicholls and eventing maestro Yogi Breisner, Pendleton will be gifted the best tutelage that racing has to offer in her quest for Cheltenham Festival stardom.
It is a venture she is ready for.
“I’ve missed the routine of training,” she said. “The discipline of it, and everything that comes with it. That was a big part of my life as I’d done that for the majority of my adult life. Being an athlete makes me happy.
“People have asked me, ‘Why have a jockey coach?’ But I’m not going to work this out for myself.
“It would take a lifetime. I find it interesting that lots of jockeys don’t have one-to-one training, they just work it out through time. I don’t have the luxury of time.
“I have to be very calm and controlled. I need to be ice cool psychologically, because rather than a bike that I can control under me, there’s an unpredictable animal. It will be like entering a completely new world.”
There is a huge level of unpredictability about horse racing, in particular National Hunt racing.
The thrills and falls of the sport of kings can be closely related to the world of cycling, where the former Sky Track Cycling Team icon took many tumbles, but also recorded nine World Championship titles in a career glittered with sporting accolades.
Interestingly, however, Pendleton’s ultimate aim is not for victory at Prestbury Park next March.
It is instead just to line up safely among fellow amateur jockeys on Cheltenham’s hallowed turf.
“If I was to get to the start line at Cheltenham next year that would be an incredible achievement,” she said. “I’ve got a long way to go before I reach that point and I’m under no illusions that it is going to be an easy ride.
“I hope that my experience as an athlete will help me to stay focused when I inevitably fall off. I hope that I don’t get distracted or allow my emotions and frustrations to get the better of me.
“I’ve been given a fantastic opportunity and I’m looking forward to enjoying it as much as I can.”
After conquering her sport on the grandest stage of all, Pendleton has won the hearts and minds of the British public, as well as the respect and gratitude from Britain’s greatest sporting champions.
For instance, the legendary 2010 BBC Sports Personality of the Year winner AP McCoy states that he believes “she’s crazy, she must be as hard as they come”.
That’s AP McCoy saying she’s crazy. AP – I’ve broken every bone in my body and recorded 20 consecutive Champion Jockey titles – McCoy.
Crazy as it may seem, Cheltenham is firmly on Pendleton’s radar.
The London 2012 Olympic Games must seem a million miles away now.