After a year’s planning and weeks of media scrutiny the Gold Cup and Foxhunters Day arrived. Victoria Pendleton, Alan, Paul, Yogi, Barry Orr and I had attended a media morning in London 10 days earlier to confirm/announce that Victoria would ride Pacha De Polder in the Fox Hunters at Cheltenham.
We went in convoy to Cheltenham and Alice Plunkett had rung me to warn me that there were nearly 30 different journos/media global outlets there and that it was like a war zone.
We frogmarched her in with cameras and questions being put perilously close to Victoria’s face. She smiled throughout and once in the weighing room Alan & I both told her that the race would be a breeze after that.
Sophia, who organises the media at Cheltenham, took over and got them into rank and file and forewarned them that should they take a step out of line they would be removed from the racecourse. She has missed her true vocation! Alan and Victoria then posed for a few photos and then walked the course in peace. After that she was left in the ladies changing room to relax, socialise with other jockeys and to prepare herself.
She came out of the paddock and listened carefully to last minute instructions from Paul and then mounted Pacha De Polder. At this point a lot of the tension and nerves disappear as you are away from the people and on your own with the horse.
She jumped out towards the back of the field, got her position in the race and in the saddle over the first two fences and then began to relax and enjoy it. She and Pacha De Polder stayed mainly on the inner through the race and by the top of the hill with three to go had crept into a more challenging position. Over the last two she then gained ground and when Victoria asked for a final effort Pacha De Polder flew up the run in for them to finish an amazing 5th – only beaten 2 ½ lengths.
This was more than we could have hoped for and an incredible performance from the combination of horse and rider. As they came back to the paddock Robert Waley Cohen rushed up to Paul Nicholls and asked that Victoria and Pacha De Polder came into the enclosures. Paul Nicholls insisted that we did not want to steal others thunder but Robert insisted that as a director of Cheltenham Racecourse it was felt that the public would like it. This they did and were greeted with an enormous cheer by the delighted crowd. After that it was just a huge blur of frenzied media activity and interviews.
The whole team of Betfair, Pitch, Yogi, Paul, Alan, John Maxse and I were over the moon with Victoria’s tremendous achievement, her coolness under pressure and her ability to stick to instructions under such enormous pressure and global scrutiny. All the long hours of work not only from Victoria but all other members of the team had paid off to the most immeasurable degree.
For the critics who said Victoria would overshadow the Gold Cup or steal Nina Carberry’s thunder the opposite was clearly the case. Her riding in the Foxhunters enhanced the days racing and brought many more viewers to the race. Nina’s name was mentioned on far more TVs that night than would ever have been before so her immense skills were shown to a far greater audience. It was a remarkable day with a remarkable lady.