For an amateur jockey, getting the chance to compete on the biggest stages does not come along all that often.
Hence why the Cheltenham Festival, with its three races designed specifically for amateur jockeys (plus those who get rides in ‘open’ races), is so crucial for the non-professionals.
It’s a real shame then that they won’t be allowed to compete at the Festival in 2021, with the government upholding the restrictions on non-elite sport.
As part of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, some outdoor sport can return for all as of March 29 – however, this does not come soon enough for amateur jockeys with the Festival running from March 16-19, and so they will be watching on like the rest of us from home.
2021 Cheltenham Festival’s Amateur Races
|Tuesday 16th March (Day 1)||National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup||Grade 2|
|Thursday 18th March (Day 3)||Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup||Class 2|
|Friday 19th March (Day 4)||St James’s Place Festival Hunters’ Chase||Class 2|
Even though Cheltenham is a celebration of the finest horses, jockeys and trainers on the planet, amateurs are a key part of the fabric of the Festival, with three races – the National Hunt Chase, the Kim Muir Handicap and the St James’s’ Palace Hunters’ Chase – all reserved exclusively for amateur riders.
Indeed, only three professionals active at the Festival – Richard Johnson, Nico de Boinville and Paul Townend – have won more races at the meeting than the amateur Jamie Codd, who along with fellow winners like Patrick Mullins, Sam Waley-Cohen and Derek O’Connor will be forced to take a watching brief.
“It’s hugely disappointing for the amateurs in the UK and for us qualified riders in Ireland not to be there, but this is a government decision in very difficult circumstances and there was very little we could do,” Codd said diplomatically.
It is still unclear as to exactly when amateurs will be allowed to return to the circuit, although if it is March 29 as assumed then they can still take part in the Foxhunters’ Chase – part of the Grand National meeting at Aintree – in what is another prestigious outing for them.
Could the Amateurs Turn Professional for the Cheltenham Festival?
Of course, one potential solution for the amateurs missing out would be to turn professional – either permanently or as a one-off.
It’s an option that Mullins, the son of legendary trainer Willie, is considering as he weighs up his options. The most successful amateur in history and a four-time Cheltenham winner, Patrick would have taken some big rides at the Festival, including tilts at the Champion Hurdle and the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.
And he has admitted that he is ‘disappointed’ by the ruling, and he didn’t completely rule out the possibility of turning professional as a result. Pressed on the matter, he said:
“I don’t know. I will have to give very serious thought to whether I turn professional or not.
“I suppose when you look at my rides, a lot of very good ones, it’s something I’ll have to consider. Hopefully we can get back to normal for Aintree, that’s the other hope. There are far worse things happening in the world at the moment.”
Meanwhile, Codd and O’Connor have both ruled out the possibility of turning pro.