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If I finish the race on the horse, it will fell like I’ve won a gold medal

Pendleto given Pendleton given thumbs-up for festival

VICTORIA PENDLETON has been told: You're in the Hunt for Festival glory.

The Olympic gold medal cycling heroine was all smiles at a press conference yesterday when she announced she has finally been given the go-ahead by her team of experts to ride Pacha Du Polder in the Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham.

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Pold bid ... Victoria Pendleton wins on Pacha Du Polder at Wincanton

And Pendleton, 35, has declared that finishing the race at the Festival would rank alongside her finest hour at the Olympics. Pendleton said: "This is hugely exciting, there will be a phenomenal crowd at Cheltenham and I am so excited.

"Just getting round would be incredible. A dream for me. Win or lose, if I finish the race on the horse and complete the course I'll feel like that's a gold medal."

The Betfair-backed 'switching saddles' campaign has ultimately achieved its goal of getting Pendleton to the Festival.

 Fest test ... Pendleton will ride at Festival
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Fest test ... Pendleton will ride at Festival

Success of the initiative now rests on solid-jumper Pacha Du Polder transporting Pendleton safely round in one piece in the race directly after the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday March 18.

Pendleton said: "We have always had the extremely ambitious target of riding competitively in the Foxhunter as our goal, so to be announcing I have achieved this goal is a truly amazing feeling."

It has been a bumpy road to Cheltenham for the bike champion who has hit the deck four times in 16 races so far, including that high profile slip from Pacha Du Polder at Fakenham last month.

She was tagged 'non-stick Vic' after that fall and her participation at the Festival looked in serious doubt with jockey legend John Francome calling her "an accident waiting to happen". However, Pendleton looked far more assured and polished in the saddle when going from the front at Wincanton to record an emphatic win on her Festival mount last week.

One wag joked at the time: "She jumped the last better than Ruby Walsh does!" It was Pendleton's make or break performance and - not for the first time - the pressure brought the best out of this remarkably gutsy athlete who has clearly loved every minute of her challenge so far.