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Victoria Pendleton back in the saddle - but on four legs, not two wheels as she eyes Cheltenham Festival spot

Track star who'd never ridden a horse till last week aims for ride in next year's Foxhunters Chase...

Victoria Pendleton, winner of multiple world championship and Olympic gold medals on the track, is getting back in the saddle – but she’s swapping two wheels for four legs, with the aim of riding over the jumps at next year’s Cheltenham Festival.

It’s an ambitious target for any amateur equestrian, but Pendleton had never even sat on a horse until last week.

The 34-year-old, who retired from cycling after winning the Keirin at London 2012, is partnering with bookmakers Betfair and is targeting qualifying as an amateur jockey and competing in the Foxhunters Chase at Cheltenham in March 2016.

Betfair says the “ground-breaking” challenge will “provide an unexpected and entertaining perspective on horse racing, while also profiling the skills, athleticism and courage faced by jockeys every day.”

Over the next 12 months, Pendleton intends to make the journey from total novice to securing a Category A licence, riding in National Hunt point to point races, with the ultimate goal of securing a ride in the race often described as the amateur riders’ Gold Cup.

She has already started her preparations, working alongside Team GB eventing performance manager Yogi Breisner, and she will also be coached by Paul Nicholls, eight time National Hunt champion trainer.

Pendleton said: "I've been looking for a new and exciting challenge. When Betfair approached me about the opportunity to train to become a licensed amateur jockey, it captured my imagination.

"I'm motivated by the scale of the challenge and the opportunity to combine my love of horses with learning a new skill under the guidance of the team of horse-racing experts Betfair has put in place for me.

“I will be working closely with Yogi Breisner, Chris King and Paul Nicholls to help train and advise me over the next 12 months.

"My team and I have identified the ambitious target of riding competitively in the Foxhunters Chase at Cheltenham Festival next year, but the initial focus will be on getting me to a level whereby I am granted an amateur jockey licence, which is a significant challenge in itself given that I had never even sat on a horse until a week ago."

Breisner already impressed with the application shown by Pendleton, saying: "Victoria is a hugely talented, ambitious and gutsy individual, and these traits will stand her in the best stead possible for achieving this ambitious goal.

"Having worked with her for a week, the progress she has already made in such a small amount of time is quite frankly remarkable. It's a real privilege to work with Victoria on a challenge of this magnitude.”

Nicholls similarly believes that Pendleton has the character needed to succeed in the challenge. He said: "Victoria is an outstanding athlete with a real drive and determination, so while this is an incredibly difficult challenge, these attributes are exactly what you need to become a jockey.

"Having the competitive mind set of an Olympic champion, I've no doubt will put her in a great place to succeed in this challenge whilst also shining a much deserved light on the sport of horse racing."

Pendleton isn’t the only Team GB track star pursuing a change of sports after a glittering track career, with Sir Chris Hoy racing for Nissan in a bid to secure a place in the prestigious Le Mans 24 Hour race next year - though should Pendleton secure that Foxhunters Chase spot, she'll pip him to the post in achieving her dream.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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