Monalee ruled out of King George after extension of Irish travel ban for Britain
The Covid-19 crisis enveloping Britain has led to the "once-in-a-generation" travel ban placed on the country by Ireland being extended to December 31, meaning no horses will be able to travel between the two countries during the festive period.
The most prominent horse affected by the development is the Henry de Bromhead-trained Monalee, who was due to run in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on December 26 and had been a general 8-1 chance.
Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Brian Kavanagh said: “Based on the government's policy, HRI has instructed that there will be no Irish runners in the UK or UK runners in Ireland between now and December 31.
"The only exceptions to that ban are for essential supply chains and services. It's unfortunate but there are bigger issues at play. However, it was pleasing the government did announce racing will continue behind closed doors, which gives us some certainty."
The Irish government's action was part of a range of new restrictions implemented in response to fears over the new variant of the Covid-19 virus now dominant in south-east England.
On Tuesday, the UK reported 36,804 coronavirus cases, the highest since the pandemic began, while the government was attempting to negotiate a reopening of the border with France, which has been shut since Sunday night.
Kavanagh added: “The concern from government is very clear: these are exceptional times and a travel ban with the UK is a once-in-a-generation occurrence.”
De Bromhead told the Racing Post that Monalee would now be considered for both of the Savills Chases at Leopardstown and Tramore, meaning he could clash with dual Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo on New Year's Day. De Bromhead had also planned to run Arkle winner Put The Kettle On in the Ladbrokes Desert Orchid Chase on Sunday.
The trainer said: “It's sad news, but we have to comply with the regulations and protocols so that's it really.
“We will have to think about an alternative plan for the horses affected. Monalee is in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown, and we will also enter him now for the Savills Chase at Tramore on New Year's Day. It is also a possibility that we will miss Christmas altogether and just head straight for the Irish Gold Cup.
"As for Put The Kettle On, there is no other suitable race for her over Christmas other than the Grade 1 at Leopardstown. I haven't spoken to the owners yet, so we'll see.”
De Bromhead had also made Kempton entries for Benruben in the Wayward Lad Novices' Chase and Plan Of Attack in a 3m handicap chase at Kempton on Sunday.
Also affected are Jessica Harrington, who had entered Sizing Pottsie in the Desert Orchid Chase, and Gordon Elliott, who had entered Duffle Coat in the Coral Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow on Sunday, while Denis Hogan was hoping to run Moyhenna in the Coral Welsh National on the same day.
Trainer Olly Murphy was hoping to travel in the other direction and had entered Thomas Darby in the Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle on Monday. Both Paddy Power and Ladbrokes were quick to announce all bets for those horses affected by the ban would be voided and refunded.
Elliott said: “It's a shame as we were going to go to Chepstow. I don't know the ins and outs of what's going on but we have to grin and bear it and just keep going.”
The news that an alternative plan will have to be found for Duffle Coat does leave Elliott with something of a selection headache with his other high-class juveniles Quilixios and Triumph Hurdle favourite Zanahiyr also holding engagements over Christmas.
He said: “We'll sit down and make a decision by morning as to what we will do. Zanahiyr definitely goes to Leopardstown but there is a race at Fairyhouse in January for juveniles only that haven't won a Graded race. That might suit Quilixios. There is every chance that Duffle Coat might be declared for Leopardstown too, although we might be looking for some softer ground.”
The last Irish-trained runner in Britain this year was the Ellemarie Holden-trained Darwell Lion who won a two-year-old novice event at Lingfield on Tuesday, and in the process gave rider Hollie Doyle her 150th winner of the year.
The horse had arrived in Britain before the original 48-hour restriction had been announced on Sunday and is expected to arrive back by ferry, possibly tomorrow. Holden said: “There should be no issues getting back, we have him booked on a few ferries and we expect that he'll be on one arriving tonight or in the early morning.”