Patrick Mullins has not dismissed the prospect of turning professional after it was announced amateur jockeys have not been given permission to ride at this year’s Cheltenham Festival due to the UK government’s restrictions on grassroots sport that are set to be in place until March 29.
Since the third lockdown began on January 4, amateur and grassroots sport have been suspended, a move that was made by the racing industry’s Covid-19 steering group which constantly reviews coronavirus protocols to determine how racing can continue to strengthen its approach.
The group said at the time it had reached its decision because it “is in line with Government restrictions around the definition of elite sport and the associated suspension of grassroots sport”, and it has been confirmed that position remains, due to the current restrictions still in place.
There are three races restricted to amateur riders only at the Cheltenham Festival - the National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys' Novices' Chase, the St James's Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase and the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase, and amateur riders are also able to compete with the professional riders in the other 25 races during the week, in normal circumstances.
The most successful amateur of all-time, Mullins could have expected to have a strong book of rides for his father Willie Mullins, including Sharjah in the Unibet Champion Hurdle, Kilcruit in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper and Billaway in the hunter chase.
Mullins – who has four Festival winners to his name to date – said: “I’m very disappointed with the news.”
Asked whether he could consider switching to the professional ranks, he added: “I don’t know. I will have to give very serious thought to whether I turn professional or not.”
Jamie Codd, who has ridden ten Cheltenham Festival winners and was set to partner leading Weatherbys Champion Bumper contender Sir Gerhard for Gordon Elliott, reflected on the announcememt and said:
“For us qualified riders in Ireland, and the amateurs in England, it’s a huge blow.
“Cheltenham is where we really like to be competing and showcasing our status. It’s hugely disappointing, but the UK Government have made their decision and fingers crossed we can all get back for the hunter chase in Aintree.
“We’re in strange times, so we just have to dust ourselves off and there’s a lot of people worse off than us – that’s the way you have to look at it.
“With the restrictions that are in place, I don’t think I’ll be travelling over. We’ll probably sit at home and cheer Gordon’s horses on from there.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve missed Cheltenham and it’s been a very lucky hunting ground for me, but that’s the way it is and we’ll have to put up with it.”
Fellow Irish rider Derek O’Connor has ridden four Cheltenham Festival winners and is the most successful Irish point-to-point rider of all-time.
He said: “I would have hoped to have picked up rides in all the amateur races, and obviously it’s disappointing – but it’s just unfortunate.
“I suppose the most important thing is the Festival going ahead. If this is a small, little help to getting the Festival to go ahead trouble-free, it’s not a big ask.
“I hope we’ll be able to be back for Aintree, which is quite important as well. The hunter chases would be the biggest loss because those are the races that are most associated with amateur riders – the hunter chase in Cheltenham and the hunter chase in Aintree. Hopefully things will have settled down a bit by the time we get round to Aintree.
“I’ll have been going to Cheltenham for 17 or 18 years, but I’ll be sat at home watching it on the television this year. Hopefully the meeting can go ahead trouble-free, and with no bad press, which is very important.”
The UK Point-To-Point Authority is set to recommence on March 29, if the government lift restrictions as suggested, with the likelihood of several midweek fixtures to clear the backlog of the meetings lost due to the Covid-19 restrictions and provide opportunities to all involved.
The point-to-point authority is responsible for administering the grassroots sport in the United Kingdom. Peter Wright, their chief executive, discussed the restrictions with Nick Luck on the Nick Luck Daily Podcast and said:
Peter Wright, who is CEO of the Point-to-Point Authority in Britain, told Nick Luck’s Daily Podcast: “Sadly, I think we have to accept the Government position, therefore there will be no amateur riding under rules until (March 29), unless there is a sudden change of heart by Government, but I don’t think that is likely.”
A spokesperson for the British Horseracing Authority said: “We would love to see amateurs able to ride again as soon as possible and will be working with DCMS, as we have throughout the pandemic, to ensure that happens.”Fancy winning a 50" television, a 12-month Racing TV subscription, a Reclining Armchair plus much more? Click here to enter our Ultimate Cheltenham At Home competition!
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