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Olympic cycling champion Pendleton earns 1st win as a jockey


WINCANTON, England -- Barely a year after first sitting on a horse, Olympic cycling champion Victoria Pendleton earned her first win as a jockey on Wednesday to potentially set her up for a ride at the prestigious Cheltenham Festival.

Pendleton rode Pacha Du Polder to victory at Wincanton in her second start under National Hunt rules. She was unseated in her first race, at Fakenham two weeks ago.

The 35-year-old Pendleton switched sports after winning gold medals in cycling at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games.

Some commentators and fellow jockeys are warning Pendleton that racing at the Cheltenham Festival - arguably the highest level in British horse racing - would be too dangerous for a novice.

A decision is set to be made on Monday regarding whether Pendleton will ride Pacha Du Polder in the Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham on March 18 - the final day of the festival.

“When I started this challenge, the whole remit was Victoria Pendleton training to be an amateur jockey who, hopefully, can qualify to ride at Cheltenham,” Pendleton said.

“As the weeks have gone on, there have been highs and lows, and today it seems a little bit closer. I will just have to wait and see, but I feel like I’ve won already in coming as far as this.”

Pendleton won by 29 lengths on Wednesday, with her horse a 5-4 favorite.

Alan Hill, from whose yard Pendleton has been riding, said: “The most important things were that she got the horse jumping and didn’t lose her concentration ... I think today she certainly showed all her hard work was put to good use. She can do it and she sits very well.”

Hill will make be involved in the decision to involve Pendleton at Cheltenham, along with Pacha Du Polder’s trainer Paul Nicholls and jumping guru Yogi Breisner.

“There is nothing to say she shouldn’t line up,” Nicholls said, “and on today’s performance she is more than qualified in my book to ride.”