Amateur jockeys could be banned from the 2021 Cheltenham Festival
- We bring you the news that amateur and conditional jockeys will be banned from riding under rules from Saturday 23rd January
- Under current government guidelines, only "professional" sports is allowed to take place
- This means that amateur riders may not be able to ride at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival
Amateur jockeys return to the parade ring after riding in the Foxhunter Chase. (Getty)
From Saturday onwards, amateur and conditional jockeys will be banned from riding under rules in Britain and Ireland, and the ban may extend into the 2021 Cheltenham Festival.
The decision was taken in line with Covid-19 regulations, which state only professional sport will be allowed to take place during the current government-enforced lockdown. As conditional jockeys only hold amateur status, they will no longer be allowed to ride under rules.
"With such a critical Covid-19 situation across the whole of the UK at present, strict compliance of government regulations is required in order for racing to continue." Read the BHA statement following this announcement.
"Regrettably, the title of “amateur” prohibits all amateur jockey participation."
"Hunter chases will continue to be programmed but, in line with the restrictions outlined above will be open to professional riders only,"
"This includes conditional riders. The base weights for these races will be reduced in line with other professional races and the associated race conditions will be updated accordingly."
This comes as another huge blow to amateur sport and to grass-roots horse racing. Point-to-point racing has already been brought to a halt by the same government guidelines, and it now seems that amateur and conditional riders will not be allowed to take part in the upcoming Cheltenham Festival.
Currently, there are four races at Cheltenham which are open only to amateur riders. The National Hunt Chase, the Kim Muir Challenge Cup and the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle. There's also the Foxhunter Chase, which is contested by hunter chasers and point-to-pointers, and is affectionately known as the "amateur Gold Cup".
With no point-to-point racing taking place and limited hunter chasing, the BHA announced this week that changes had been made to the qualification criteria for the Foxhunters.
Previously, only horses who had finished first or second in two recognised hunter chases, or two point-to-point races were eligible for a run in the Foxhunters. This year, though, only two top-four finishes will be required.
A spokesman for the Amateur Jockey Association reacted to the ban on Tuesday.
Their statement read, "The BHA and British racecourses working together from the start of the pandemic have enabled racing's continuation due to their expertise and under strict covid protocols."
"We are very grateful to the BHA for their support in enabling experienced National Hunt amateurs to participate until now.
"It should be noted that no other amateur sports have been allowed during this current lockdown except for Olympic sports.
"The preservation of Hunter Chases is good news in these challenging times, being an important part of the amateur National Hunt calendar.
"With the current cessation of point-to-pointing this is extremely beneficial with such a large number of racehorses currently at a standstill.
"We all look forward to the lifting of lockdown and returning to normality as soon as possible."