Amateur riders will not be permitted at this year’s Cheltenham Festival as they are not considered “elite” under the Government’s coronavirus rules.
The Festival (16-19 March) contains three major amateur races, including the Foxhunter Chase — renamed this year the St James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Steeple Chase — often dubbed the “amateur Gold Cup”.
In normal circumstances, top amateurs from both sides of the Irish Sea frequently have rides in the professional races at the Festival as well. This means the implications of the decision are not confined to “amateur” contests.
The amateur races will still go ahead, but horses will be ridden by professional jockeys.
Broadcaster Nick Luck explained on his daily podcast (24 February) that the reason is amateur riders are not classified as elite athletes, so the Government restrictions on amateur sport that are not being lifted until 29 March extend to amateur riders.
Point-to-point authority chief executive Peter Wright told Nick that it is a “disappointment” but “needs must in these very difficult situations”.
“Sadly I think we have to accept the Government position and therefore there will be no amateur riders under Rules until then, unless there is a sudden change of heart by the Government but I don’t believe that’s likely,” he said.
“I’m delighted at least that the Foxhunter will be going ahead and our owners and trainers will still get the opportunity to produce their horses for what I think looks like a very good renewal.”
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Each March, most of the world’s best National Hunt horses gather at Cheltenham Racecourse to line-up and take their place
British point-to-pointing has been suspended through the lockdowns and the ban on amateur riders competing in races under Rules, including hunter chases, came into play on 16 January.
Without going into the specific details, the difference between an amateur and a professional jockey’s licence, broadly speaking, comes down to a question of payment.
Dental care professional Sam Waley-Cohen won the 2011 Gold Cup, while the likes of past and present Irish amateur riders Jamie Codd, Patrick Mullins, Derek O’Connor and Nina Carberry have had significant success against professionals at the Festival.
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