Victoria Pendleton’s bid for a Cheltenham Festival winner took a step closer in the last week when it was announced that Pacha Du Polder would be her mount in the Foxhunters Chase.
The race sometimes referred to as the ‘Amateur’s Gold Cup’ has been the target for the 35-year-old as she aims to swap success in one saddle for triumph in another.
Having climbed onto the back of a horse for the first time just 12 months ago, the task Pendleton faces is a mammoth one to start with, but a closer look at the race suggests it is more unlikely still that the she comes out in front up the Cheltenham hill.
For what it’s worth, her intended mount would probably be a solid contender in most renewals of the Foxhunters, but this year’s running could be the strongest one yet.
Rated 141 under rules, Paul Nicholls’ charge is a five-time winner over fences, once at Grade 2 level back in 2012.
The nine-year-old has been placed on all four Hunter Chases to date under Will Biddick, but there are plenty of question marks surrounding the chances of this 16/1 shot.
Firstly, Cheltenham form is sometimes seen as essential for Festival success, and it’s fair to say that Prestbury Park hasn’t been the happiest of hunting grounds for the son of Mutathir, with form figures of P06 in his three runs at the Gloucestershire track.
Furthermore he has only raced at three miles or further a trio of times in his career and has been beaten at least 10 lengths on each occasion.
The most recent of those came at Stratford in May when he was behind the pair of Moroman and Paint the Clouds in the course’s Champion Hunter Chase.
This brings us on to the next obstacle in Pendleton’s way; the competition.
The latter of the aforementioned pair was well fancied for the Festival race 12 months ago but could only manage third, and with this race looking tougher yet, a major step forward is needed for Pendleton’s mount.
The likes of 2011 Gold Cup winner Long Run (4/1), Prince De Beauchene (5/1) who has won three straight Hunter Chases the latest by 62 lengths, and last year’s winner On The Fringe (4/1) all see themselves at the head of the market.
The former two of that trio are rated in excess of 10lbs superior to Pacha Du Polder over rules, while the latter racked up a Festival double last year, scoring at Punchestown after his Cheltenham success.
What could be the biggest barrier in the pursuit of the dream for Pendleton is her lack of experience in these big races.
A look through previous winners suggest that even though this race is for amateur jockeys, the cream very often rises to the top.
Nina Carberry gives her professional counterparts a run for their money on a regular basis, and recently delivered a peach of a ride to take the Glenfarclas Cross Country on Josies Orders at Cheltenham’s December meeting.
She scored in the Foxhunters 12 months ago, and will take some stopping in March.
Prior to Carberry’s success, the likes of Colman Sweeney and James Smyth, both of whom had recorded a handful of winner under rules took the race.
Before that Derek O’Connor, one of the most successful amateur jockeys of all time added the contest to his tally of 1,000-plus successes.
Victoria Pendleton on the other hand, has had the grand total of two runs under rules, both of those on the flat, and has just a handful of point-to-point rides to her name.
Make no mistake, her journey to transform from cyclist to jockey deserves plenty of credit and is undoubtedly doing a lot of good for the sport, but when it comes to betting sentiment shouldn’t come into it.
It would be a fairytale success should Pacha Du Polder win the Foxhunters, but at 16/1 there is next to no value in the story having the happiest of endings.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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