Victoria Pendleton, the double Olympic cycling gold medallist turned jockey, has joined the all-conquering King Power polo set-up run by the owners of Premier League winning club Leicester City.
She has already started a crash course at King Power’s 200-acre estate in Berkshire to learn the sport and will play in a match at Ham Polo Club, at the height of the English polo season, on June 16.
The former cyclist quit two wheels after the London 2012 Games citing the bullying culture at British cycling which has led to high-profile sackings and investigations in the last two months, but Pendleton’s latest challenge continues an equine theme which has dominated the 35-year-old’s life for the last 14 months.
Pendleton announced her intention to become a jockey last year – an experiment backed by a leading bookmaker – in order to compete at the Foxhunter Chase at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival, under the auspices of champion horse trainer Paul Nicholls.
What began as “a PR stunt” turned into a genuine venture, according to the bookmakers who had sponsored her. Pendleton has since “fallen in love with (horse) racing”.
Last summer, Pendleton began racing on the flat, firstly at Ripon, and two months ago, won her first race on 5-4 favourite Pacha Du Polder at Wincanton.
On the same horse, Pacha Du Polder, the renowned British sportswoman competed in the 2016 Foxhunter Chase, at Cheltenham, finishing fifth which the Cheshire-based athlete described as “a dream, audacious, ridiculous” and “probably the greatest achievement of my life”.
In polo terms, Pendleton is joining a team with the Midas touch at present, as King Power dominated British high goal polo last season winning the Queen’s Cup and the Gold Cup, before going on to claim the Premier League this season under the Srivaddhanaprabha family, who are of Thai Chinese heritage.
Like Pendleton, they are driven, proven winners. From May last year through to July, Top, one of two polo-playing sons of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the Leicester chairman, and the King Power outfit were unbeaten and completed the English season’s high goal polo ‘double’.
The King Power polo teams are comparable to the Manchester City or Chelsea of football.
The Srivaddhanaprabhas have star Argentinian players Facundo and Gonzalito Pieres, and a group of young players based at Billingbear, the 200-acre estate in Berkshire from where the operation is run, with up to 75 staff and the stabling of around 130 ponies for this year’s campaign.
Daily 22-goal practice matches are played there twice a day, and Pendleton – who will take a crash course in the sport – may even find herself playing against 58-year-old Leicester City chairman Vichai, who remains a formidable player who takes part in high goal practise matches.
“Victoria will be training with the team, and after three to four weeks of intensive practicing, we hope to get her to a level good enough to compete in a match. We will get her up to speed,” Pete McCormack, polo manager at King Power, told Telegraph Sport.
“The young English pros based here, Hugo Lewis and Harry Revel, are very excited to see Victoria here.”
Pendleton is expected to play in the charity polo match for the Laureus World Sports Academy at Ham Polo Club on June 16.