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Star riders forced to miss Cheltenham as amateurs are barred from festival

Jamie Codd celebrates winning the 2019 Champion Bumper on Envoi Allen - but he won't be riding at the meeting this year
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Amateur jockeys will not be permitted to ride at this season's Cheltenham Festival due to the UK government's restrictions on grassroots sport lasting until March 29.

Amateur riders are traditionally part of the fabric of the Cheltenham Festival with three races – the National Hunt Chase, Kim Muir Handicap Chase, and the St James's Place Hunters' Chase – reserved solely for them, and the leading amateurs also compete with professionals in the meeting's other races.

However, amateur and grassroots sports have been suspended in Britain since lockdown began on January 4 and a resumption is earmarked for March 29.

As such, the decision is understood to have been taken by the BHA to not allow amateur jockeys to compete at Cheltenham, an elite sports event, this year.

It is unclear whether any suspension of amateur riders competing beyond March 29 will be in place, with contests such as the Foxhunters' Chase at the Grand National meeting reserved for amateurs in normal circumstances.

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Ten-time Cheltenham Festival-winning rider Jamie Codd was philosophical about the exclusion, while stating he has no intention to turn professional in order to ride at the meeting. 

Had Codd been allowed to participate, of the riders on duty only Richard Johnson, Nico de Boinville and Paul Townend would have ridden more festival winners than him. Instead, he is now hoping the ban will be lifted in time for the Foxhunters' Chase at Aintree.

"It's hugely disappointing for the amateurs in the UK and for us qualified riders in Ireland not to be there, but this is a government decision in very difficult circumstances and there was very little we could do," Codd said.

"I was preparing myself for this. I thought we might be in trouble, and I won't be turning professional but I will be cheering on all the Irish horses from home."

"There is a bit of light at the end of the tunnel that we might be back for Aintree, so that would be something to look forward to."

Record-breaking point-to-point rider Derek O'Connor echoed Codd's hopes for an Aintree return, adding that the absence of amateurs would be felt greatest in the Hunters' Chase.

Derek O'Connor: Irish Gold Cup-winning rider is hopeful that amateurs will be back in time to ride in the Aintree Foxhunters' Chase

"Given how important a race like the Hunters' Chase is to the grassroots network of people in racing, it's a big loss that amateurs won't be allowed to ride in it," he said. "We're just hopeful we'll get back in time for Aintree when things should be a little more straightforward."

Elements of the amateur season have already been greatly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic with point-to-points in Britain and Ireland halted as part of the ban on non-elite sports.

The UK Point-To-Point Authority confirmed on Tuesday that its meetings would return on March 29, provided the government is in a position to lift the restrictions on non-elite sport.

In Ireland, a return date for point-to-points is still uncertain, with the lockdown in the country remaining until at least April 5, according to Taoiseach Micheal Martin.

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Obviously I had a very good book of rides so I will have to give some very serious thought as to whether I turn professional or not
E.W. Terms