TOP Irish jockey Katie Walsh insists cycling hero Victoria Pendleton is “fully entitled” to ride at the Cheltenham Festival.
The double Olympic cycling champion partners the Paul Nicholls-trained Pacha Du Polder, who is also her intended Cheltenham mount, in the Betfair Switching Saddles “Grassroots” Fox Hunters’ Chase at Fakenham today provided the frost-threatened Norfolk track passes an inspection.
It will be the 35-year-old’s first start under National Hunt Rules and will reveal whether she has the skills required to line up in the St James’s Place Foxhunters Chase, the Gold Cup for amateur riders,
Walsh, a Cheltenham Festival winner in 2010 aboard Poker de Sivola for the then West Witton trainer Ferdy Murphy, says Pendleton’s perseverance should not be under-estimated. “She’s a lot of experience under her belt, she’s done a lot of point-to-pointing over the past few months,” said Walsh, who won last year’s Irish National on Thunder And Roses.
“She has her licence and she obviously would have had to have gone through various tests to get it. The first time she sat on a horse was this month last year. It’s a huge ask.
“Obviously she’s a highly competitive athlete coming into it. Once she can get the horse there in one piece, she’s fully entitled to go and ride in the Foxhunter.”
Walsh, sister of star jockey Ruby, feels Pendleton is well equipped to handle the demands of riding because of the high-octane experience she has gained from cycling at the highest level.
“She is used to going fast and I think that must be a big factor in her even getting this far with it,” said Walsh. “Because in my experience, speed is what usually puts people off. She’s obviously used to controlling her bike at high speeds and she would definitely have come across times where she missed a stride or took a misstep on her bike.
“That happens a fair bit in racing, too, but it can spook people if they’re not used to it. I think that’s probably an important side of it for her – she can relate to that a lot easier than say, if she was a tennis player trying to do this.
“She would have experienced that fear of going at a high speed, having a wobble and knowing that if you come off, you’re going to have a hell of a fall. It must be a big help to her to already know what that fear is like and to be able to relate to it. Most people wouldn’t have that starting off.”
Sue Smith’s Cloudy Too heads the weights for tomorrow’s Betfred Grand National at Haydock. Eight runners have been declared.