Codd accepts amateur absence at Cheltenham Festival

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Jamie Codd admits it’s a blow after it was confirmed that amateur jockeys will not be permitted to ride at this season’s Cheltenham Festival, but he remains philosophical over the current situation.

With the UK government’s restrictions on grassroots sport lasting until March 29th, it has been confirmed that amateur riders won’t be a part of Cheltenham 2021.

Part of the fabric of Cheltenham

The four-day Cheltenham Festival encompasses all that National Hunt racing has to offer and the leading amateur riders are a major part of that.

Three races – the National Hunt Chase, Kim Muir Handicap Chase, and the St James’s Place Hunters’ Chase – are traditionally for amateur riders only, while top amateur riders also compete against their professional peers in races like the Champion Bumper.

Famously, Sam Waley-Cohen became the first amateur rider to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2011 when he steered the Nicky Henderson-trained Long Run to defeat the likes of Denman and Kauto Star in the Blue Riband in the colours of his father, Robert Waley-Cohen.

With amateur and grassroots sports currently suspended in the UK under the current Covid-19 restrictions – and no prospect of those being eased by March 29th – the BHA have moved to confirm that amateur riders cannot ride at the Cheltenham Festival from March 16th – 19th.

Codd philosophical over decision

Having partnered 10 Cheltenham Festival winners in his decorated career already, Ireland’s Jamie Codd is amongst the most distinguished amateur riders of his generation.

He is a go-to for trainer Gordon Elliott and was the man in the saddle when would-be superstar Envoi Allen announced himself on the big stage by winning the Champion Bumper at the 2019 Festival.

Accepting the decision and the reasons behind it, Codd immediately dismissed any notion he might take out a professional riders’ license to circumvent that call.

“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 that we could do,” he 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.

“For the qualified riders here in Ireland, it’s a huge blow. Cheltenham is a big deal and its a few days of the year that we can showcase our qualified riders on the big stage, but that’s life and we have to move on.”

Aintree still a possibility

It has already been a troubled season for amateur riders, with point-to-points in Britain and Ireland halted as part of the ban on non-elite sports in both jurisdictions.

Irish Gold Cup-winning rider Derek O’Connor is another name synonymous with the Cheltenham Festival and, while accepting of the news, he admits it’s a bitter blow for the grassroots racing community to lose a marquee contest like the St James’s Place Hunters’ – known in racing as the amateur riders Gold Cup.

O’Connor remains hopeful that the top amateurs jockeys from Britain and Ireland might be permitted to return to the fold for Aintree’s Grand National Festival in April.

“It’s obviously very disappointing, but in the greater scheme of things they felt this is the safest action they could take,” he added.

“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. We’re just hopeful that we’ll get back in time for Aintree when things should be a little more straightforward.”

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