Victoria Pendleton - the 'golden girl' of British cycling - started riding just nineteen weeks ago and at Newbury Racecourse on Thursday evening (July 2) she took part in a charity race - her first outing in public. The flat race, The George Frewer Celebration Sweepstake over one mile and five furlongs, was the first on the evening card raising funds for the Key4Life charity.
She said afterwards that she was thrilled with her first ride in a race. She finished eighth in a field of eleven on the eight year-old bay gelding Mighty Mambo - trained by Lawney Hill at her Oxfordshire yard and for whom Victoria is now riding out.
As one seasoned racing correspondent put it: "Few novice riders would even begin to contemplate anything like a public race and fewer still would have sustained such enthusiasm in the face of the inevitable tumbles and petty humiliations that horses deliver." (Chris Cook, The Guardian.)
Pendleton and Mighty Mambo got away rather slowly from the start. But she made some late progress: "I gave him too much to do. There's a really long straight here and I thought some horses would blow out so I wanted to bide my time. It was over too quickly. I wish I could do it again."
The charity race was won by Oratorio's Joy trained by Mr J.A.Osborne and ridden by Maisie Turner, with Charlotte Plunkett (Barbury trainer Alan King's PA) second on Uriah Heap - trained by her boss.
The age range of the riders taking part in the charity race was staggering. The youngest was Jacob Jelfs (aged 20) - he rides out for trainer Charlie Hills. And the oldest was Sir Mark Todd (aged 59) New Zealand eventing star based just over the Marlborough Downs at Badgerstown. He almost certainly has more Olympic medals than Ms Pendleton.
The challenge to Victoria Pendleton from Betfair proved to be one she could not refuse. It was not just a challenge to switch from bicycle to horse, but to become a race jockey.
Once she had retired from competitive cycling after the London Olympics, she had been looking for a challenge - perhaps a challenge a little more atuned to her skills and love of speed than Strictly Come Dancing. Betfair provide it: they wanted to find "an unexpected and entertaining perspective on horse racing, while also profiling the skills, athleticism and courage faced by jockeys every day."
Betfair assembled a team of experts to make sure Victoria could reach their ambitious target. The team included chef d'equipe of the British eventing team, Yogi Breisner, trainer Lawney Hill, para-dressage rider Tamsin Addison, champion trainer and Betfair ambassador Paul Nichols. Oh, and she had some words of wisdom from another retired champion - AP McCoy.
At 34-years-old, Victoria had been riding bicycles since she was three-years-old and had only had the occasional holiday pony ride. Her record made her Britain's most successful woman Olympic athlete, so she certainly knows about the hard work and dedication the change of saddles would involve.
The Betfair challenge aims to get Victoria ready to take part in the Foxhunters Amateur Chase at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival. On the way she will have more charity races before she goes to the British Racing School to see whether she qualifies for an amateur's licence. And before the end of 2015 she hopes to be able to have some point-to-point rides.
Betfair's Mark Ody, is more than hopeful she will make the Cheltenham race: "With Victoria's Olympic pedigree, our support network, a lot of hard work, we're all hugely confident that we'll be cheering Victoria on in the Foxhunters Amateur at Cheltenham Festival 2016."
The George Frewer Charity Race at Newbury (sponsored by the Bernard Sunley Charitable Foundation) was in memory of George Frewer, who died in a freak accident on what would have been his 17th birthday. His passion was horse racing. To date over of £450,000 has been raised in his memory.