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Henderson hits out over BHA threat to ban races for amateur riders at festival

Nicky Henderson: a supporter of races for amateur riders at the festival
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Champion trainer Nicky Henderson has criticised the BHA's response to an attritional renewal of the National Hunt Chase, in which bans were handed out to three riders who were deemed to have "continued in the race when it appeared to be contrary to the horse's welfare", while another was banned for "using his whip when his horse was showing no response".

The regulator issued a strong statement in the aftermath of Tuesday's near four-mile contest, in which just four of the 18 runners finished, referring to last year's Cheltenham review – carried out after the death of six horses at the 2018 festival – and casting a shadow over the future of races for amateurs at the meeting.

It said: "The Cheltenham review was clear that amateur riders should be aware that they are subject to particular public scrutiny and that amateur participation in its current form at future festivals will be under material threat should further incidents occur."

Tuesday's National Hunt Chase has come under scrutiny

Henderson, whose well-fancied runner Ok Corral was pulled up, said on Wednesday: "I think it's very sad they're looking at it that way. These races are part and parcel of National Hunt racing. When you start banning this and banning that, my worry is they might one day ban jump racing completely."

One of the riders handed a ban was Declan Lavery, who finished third aboard Jerrysback, 47 lengths behind the first two, Le Breuil and Discorama.

Henderson, who himself used to ride as an amateur, queried the ban and said: "What on earth was the jockey on the third horse meant to do? One rule says you have to ride your horse to achieve the best possible placing – but then you're banned for finishing third. In my opinion the horse wasn't exhausted. If he'd pulled up he'd surely have been fined.

"These are good amateur riders. They're nearly professional amateur riders. When I was riding amateurs really were amateurs. They were people with a day job who rode occasionally. Anybody could go out there and take part. They gave anyone a licence and said, 'Good on you, go out there and have a go'. I was lucky. I was riding good horses for Fred Winter, but it didn't mean I was any good.

"I know we have to look after our sport and think about the public, but I just hope they aren't going too far."

Henderson was quick to praise the BHA for how well the pre-race veterinary checks were carried out having been implemented on the back of the Cheltenham review.

He added: "If I'm having a bit of a dig at the BHA in that regard [over the bans], I think it's only fair to say the pre-race veterinary checks have been smoothly and professionally done. I was nervous about it but it's been handled very well. I appreciate it's a perfectly sensible thing to be doing in the circumstances."

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These races are part and parcel of National Hunt racing.When you start banning this and banning that, my worry is they might one day ban jump racing
E.W. Terms