FORMER Olympic champion cyclist Victoria Pendleton made her first ‘under the rules’ racing outing at Ripon on Monday after a lot of scepticism about her switching sports over the last year.
Pendleton, who finished second in the Betfair Novice Flat Amateur Riders' Handicap in her first competitive race, has been working very hard with Lawney Hill out near Oxford and even AP McCoy has been out to give her advice and help her with her schooling, as well as fellow Irishman Aidan Coleman.
From what I hear, she’s been coming along nicely in the charity races she’s entered too and her ambition is to ride over the jumps at Cheltenham next year, which has been met with a mixed reaction by the public and the media.
Pendleton has given herself a long-term target that she’s already been working on for a year, but Monday’s breakthrough at Ripon was her first big step towards racing as a professional in a female jockey race.
No doubt it will have been a massive learning curve for her and it has generated a lot of publicity, which can only be a good thing for women’s racing in my opinion. She’s even made the front page of the Racing Post recently, next to Richard Johnson, so that shows you how big this story is.
To date, she’s had a lot of good publicity but also a lot of bad publicity. Surprisingly, one or two female ex-jockeys had a pop at her because she hasn’t started off at the very bottom like everyone else has had to.
True enough, she has kind of jumped in half-way up the scale, but I suppose the negativity can be a good thing for the sport as it has people talking about ladies’ racing when they otherwise might not have.
Lawney Hill has been uploading videos online of Pendleton practicing behind the scenes and, I have to say, she looks the part.
Victoria, a keirin gold medallist from London 2012, is a top athlete in her own right – her fitness levels are through the rough – and she’s a very competitive person, so if it is her goal to ride at Cheltenham and Aintree, then I’ve no doubt she’ll do it because of the progress she’s already shown in her short time in racing.
Personally, I don’t see why she can’t enter the sport half-way up if she has the talent, and from what I’ve seen, I think she has.
Another big talking point in racing this week is American Pharoah, who was beaten by Keen Ice before a shocked sell-out crowd at Saratoga Race Course in America on Saturday.
Keen Ice came from a long way back in what was a fascinating race, overtaking the only Triple Crown winner in the last 37 years to win by three quarters of a length.
I wouldn’t be surprised if American Pharoah retires now after that defeat, which would be disappointing for all the connections but sometimes a shock loss to a 12/1 outsider can signal the end.
As for me, I had a winner at Sedgefield last week and I’m hoping to get another handful under my belt in the UK this week after a fruitful summer stint in Deauville.