When Rachel Kneller hit out at Victoria Pendleton’s Switching Saddles campaign, she struck a chord with worthy tones. But she has one thing very, very wrong.
Jockey Rachel Kneller called Victoria Pendleton’s Betfair-sponsored campaign, to go from never having ridden to riding at next year’s Cheltenham Festival, a ‘slap in the face’ to hard-working stable staff trying to break into the jockey ranks.
Her comments came on Facebook after Pendleton finished eighth in her first racecourse ride in a Newbury charity race and rang true in many ways.
There are people who “have worked their butts off for years in racing with the dream of riding in a race one day who will probably never get the chance to”.
They don’t “have the media onside” (because most of the world don’t) and, as fellow jockey Laura Pike added, “there are workers in racing who can ride better than her” but will never become jockeys.
But none of that makes racing look like a joke. None of that should make those people frustrated about having not got their chance yet feel hopeless (and not making it as a jockey has absolutely nothing to do with not being known by media). On the contrary, this journey should inspire and instil drive in those people because Pendleton is proving what can be done.
Pendleton’s project is a publicity stunt by Betfair and there are no stable staff in the country who would ever be considered for a publicity stunt of this magnitude. So, firstly, this project was never about riding talent or even aspiring jockeys.
Betfair’s Switching Saddles campaign is about promoting the brand – and in turn horse racing – to a wider audience and they are nailing the basics of their brief in serious style.
Secondly, Pendleton is not some half-wit ‘celeb’ who got famous by showing her bum on a reality TV show. This is a nine-time World Cycling Champions, a two-time Olympic Gold Medallist and one of Britain’s most-decorated female Olympians of all-time.
So for Kneller to suggest that there are others more deserving of the leg up Pendleton is getting is incorrect. She has earned everything – and more.
This is a woman who has shown the type of dedication and focus in her 34 years that most people cannot even comprehend, putting in the sort of daily training sessions that reduce you to the foetal position.
And then, athletes of her calibre become much more than that; they are role models, invaluable assets to British sport and, in her case, women’s sport. She has a constant responsibility towards cycling, to build it, to encourage women, to inspire children and she does that sweetly.
How amazing then that she, with her nearly 300,000 Twitter followers, is showing what a woman can achieve in horse racing?
And she will achieve it, because people with minds and bodies strong enough to win Olympic Gold medals can condition themselves to achieve just about anything.
Hayley Turner, the first female jockey to ride 100 winners in Britain in a calendar year, was openly impressed by the progress she has made so far, telling the Racing Post:”She looked so tidy and she’s done a fantastic job in a short space of time. She’s a very likeable person and I admire what she’s doing.”
So do I. So should you.