Victoria Pendleton’s ‘saddle swap’ project slammed

Victoria Pendleton’s fledgling career as a jockey has prompted fierce criticism, with some horse racing experts urging her to stop.
The former cyclist, a two-time Olympic champion, was unseated on her debut over regulation fences at Fakenham on Friday. Pendleton’s team claimed she was ejected by a stray hoof from another runner Baltic Blue, who also unloaded his rider at the same stage.
However, John Francome, former leading jump jockey and Channel 4 analyst, led the calls for her to end her ‘switching saddles’ venture.
“She wants saving from herself,” said Francome after Pendleton’s fall. “I’ve never met her, she seems a lovely girl but she can’t ride and she’s an accident waiting to happen.”
Pendleton’s main goal is to compete at the Cheltenham festival, either in March or next year, but that is a ridiculous ambition, according to Francome.
“She could have fallen off at any fence. It’s not just about Cheltenham, she could come off on a Sunday afternoon at a point to point. She wants stopping before she hurts herself,” he added.
Those sentiments were shared by the Irish Times’ Brian O’Connor, who said Pendleton’s rise “makes a proud sport look desperate.”
He added: “Some of Pendleton’s public efforts to date have been ropy, including falling off when galloping in a straight line during a flat race.”
In Pendleton’s defence, riders falling off is a regular event – it’s simply that it rarely commands the same amount of column inches as an Olympian-turned-jockey.
Cheltenham may come too soon for Pendleton this year, but until she’s had a few more outings over fences it’s very hard to form a measured opinion.
Steve Smith Eccles, who rode more than 900 winners, defended Pendleton’s dream, but said March’s showpiece event was too much, too soon.
“At Fakenham she was on an odds-on favourite popping round out the back,” he said. “You’re going to get a maximum field at Cheltenham and all the hurly-burly that comes with it, and on the strength of Friday I would be a little wary about letting her go round there.”

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