Ireland’s top amateur riders await clarity on Cheltenham fate

British amateurs have not been able to compete since last month because of Covid-19 restrictions

Jamie Codd on Envoi Allen celebrates winning the 2019 Weatherbys Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Jamie Codd on Envoi Allen celebrates winning the 2019 Weatherbys Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

The chances of Ireland’s top amateur jockeys riding at the Cheltenham Festival could become clearer when the British government’s latest roadmap for easing Covid-19 restrictions is announced on Monday.

Amateur jockeys in Britain haven’t been able to compete since last month when they were classed as grassroots participants in line with government guidelines relating to elite sport.

Point-to-point racing here is suspended under a similar Irish Government classification but crucially amateur jockeys are still allowed compete on racecourses.

One of the country’s leading amateurs Jamie Codd is due to ride the Gordon Elliott-trained Ginto in Sunday’s bumper at Navan.

Both men are keeping their fingers crossed the cross-channel rules change in time for Cheltenham.

“We don’t know if the amateurs are going to be able to ride or not. If they are, that will be a massive game changer for us as you have half a stone up your sleeve straight away when you’ve got one of the good Irish fellas riding,” Elliott said earlier this week.

Three of the 28 races at Cheltenham are confined to amateurs including the National Hunt Chase on day one for which Elliott’s Galvin is ante-post favourite.

Codd will hope to ride Galvin and add to his haul of 10 festival winners. However, uncertainty remains about whether restrictions will be eased in time to allow him compete.

“The amateurs in the UK are looking into it with the BHA [British Horseracing Authority] but ultimately, like every decision, it is government related,” Codd said on Friday. “We will have to wait and see what the decision is. There’s no point saying much until it has happened.”

A BHA spokesman said the situation may become more clear after Boris Johnson’s announcement on Monday, although he stressed that British racing’s ruling body is as much in the dark as everyone else.

“We have got to take government’s lead on this. If there is an relaxation around their restrictions around sports participation then it might possibly open up the avenue for getting amateur riders back racing. We would be keen to do that as soon as possible,” he said.

“As it stands, unless there is a significant change to government policy, there won’t be amateur riders competing at the festival,” he added.

Having to miss Cheltenham would be a major blow to other top Irish amateurs such as Patrick Mullins and leave the racecourse facing the prospect of allowing professionals ride in other historic races such as the Kim Muir and the Hunters’ Chase.

The Thyestes winner Coko Beach is prominent in betting markets for both the Kim Muir and the National Hunt Chase but his immediate priority is a Grade Two success at Navan on Sunday.

The grey is 12lbs higher in ratings for his impressive Thyestes success and is top-rated for the Ladbrokes Ten Up Chase. However, he also has 18 lengths to make up on Espanito Bello on Naas form in December and there doesn’t appear any obvious reason why he should do so.

Sunday’s star attraction, though, will be Tiger Roll, who reappears in the Grade Two Boyne Hurdle.

The dual-Grand National hero won this in 2019 before the second of his Aintree triumphs and his performance will be closely examined on Sunday to see if that competitive fire still burns.

Tiger Roll was pulled up in his last start at Cheltenham in November and what he does at Navan could determine whether or not he returns to Cheltenham next month or even go to Aintree in April for a shot at a potential historic National hat-trick.

Saturday’s scheduled Gowran card, cancelled due to waterlogging, has been refixed for next Friday.

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