No Amateur Riders at Cheltenham This Year

Espoir D'Allen lands Champion Hurdle

2021 Cheltenham Festival is due to take place between the 16th and 19th of March at Cheltenham Racecourse.

This is one of the most popular meetings in the National Hunt racing calendar in the United Kingdom and only the Grand National comes with greater prize money.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase, and Stayers’ Hurdle are some of the major races to take place over the course of the four days.

The 2021 Cheltenham Festival will be different to many of the previous events due to Covid-19. One of the major differences will be the lack of spectators at the racecourse. Fans are currently banned from attending sports events in the UK due to Covid-19 and that ruling remains in place for the Cheltenham Festival.

On Monday the 22nd of February, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined his plans to bring the country out of lockdown and a date of 29th of March was made for the resumption of grassroots sport. However, that will not change the ruling which came into place in January for the 2021 Cheltenham Festival.

Traditionally, there are three amateur races run at Cheltenham each year. They include the National Hunt Chase, Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Chase, and the St James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase. Unfortunately for horse racing fans and those who would have been eligible to participate in the three amateur races at Cheltenham this year, they will not be running.

This is due to the fact amateur sport comes under the grass roots rule created by the United Kingdom government. As grass roots sport is currently prohibited under the lockdown rules until the 29th of March, the 2021 Cheltenham Festival has come too early for the amateur riders. The racing industry’s Covid-19 steering group, which is responsible for the horse racing coronavirus protocols, made the decision in January. 

Speaking about the decision to prevent amateur riders from competing at Cheltenham this year, the Covid-19 steering group said it was because it “is in line with Government restrictions around the definition of elite sport and the associated suspension of grassroots sport.”

Speaking about the decision, Derek O’Connor, who has ridden four Cheltenham Festival winners, 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.”

Cheltenham Racecourse
Cheltenham Racecourse
The news has clearly come as a huge blow to those who were hoping to participate as an amateur. Jamie Codd, who has 10 Festival winners to his name, said “Cheltenham is where we really like to be competing and showcasing our status. It’s hugely disappointing, but the UK Government have their decision made and fingers crossed we can all get back for the hunter chase in Aintree.”

Hopefully, with the vaccine rollout in the UK, this will be a one-off occasion and the three amateur races will return to Cheltenham in 2022.


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