We can reveal that Victoria Pendleton will continue her countdown towards a tilt at the Cheltenham Festival by riding in her first Hunter Chase on Pacha Du Polder at Fakenham on February 19. Paul Nicholls, who has been supporting the dual Olympic gold medallist in her campaign, has the lowdown...
"Frankly the improvement Victoria has made since she began this odyssey is phenomenal and she now looks the part when she comes down to Ditcheat to ride on our gallops."
Fakenham is the logical target for Victoria and Pacha Du Polder after their excellent debut together when they failed by inches to land a point-to-point at Milborne St Andrew on January 31.
The alternative was for them to race together in another point-to-point. But, in my view, it is important for Victoria to gain experience in a Hunter Chase before considering a tilt at the ultimate challenge of riding in the St James's Place Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham in March. The race over three miles at Fakenham, an easy track, looks ideal and comes at a perfect time before Cheltenham.
I was delighted to be asked to help find Victoria a suitable mount for the Foxhunters and suggested Pacha Du Polder who was qualified and hunted locally by Chloe Roddick before joining me a week ago.
For the second year running Chloe has done a great job qualifying this horse who has achieved much for me in the colours of Andy Stewart.
Pacha Du Polder is a very classy chaser, a brilliant jumper, travels well in his races, has smart form over Aintree's National fences and showed he stayed three miles at Milborne St Andrew.
I have to admit I was quite nervous when I first heard about Victoria's bold plan to ride at Cheltenham in such a tight timetable as she had never sat on a horse a year ago.
But when you look at her Olympic record you know she is up for the challenge and in the past eight months she has made massive strides under the skilful tuition of Alan and Lawney Hill and Yogi Breisner.
It has been a case of one step after another in the right direction. Three starts in charity races on the flat have been followed by a number of rides in point-to-points.
I wanted to be satisfied at Milborne St Andrew that Victoria was ready for Hunter Chases and I'd say she passed the examination with flying colours.
She sits quietly on a horse, is tidy over a fence and unbelievably determined. She has taken in all the advice she has been given, works tirelessly on her fitness and rides out six days a week. Frankly the improvement Victoria has made since she began this odyssey is phenomenal and she now looks the part when she comes down to Ditcheat to ride on our gallops.
Should Victoria reach Cheltenham, her and Pacha Du Polder are more than capable of finishing in the first six which would be a superb achievement. But before that, Fakenham is another huge and important step in this incredible journey.