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Cheltenham Foxhunter could be limited to professional riders only

As if the suspension of Point-to-Point racing wasn't disruptive enough to the season, the chances of aspiring Amateur riders have been dealt a further blow by the British Horseracing Authority's restriction on any amateur riding in races under Rules. This is the result of a DCMS ruling that amateurs and specifically Hunter Chases, do not register as "elite sport".

The result is that where trainers and riders had previously transferred their allegiance to the limited number of Hunter Chases over the next few months, these rides will now only be offered to conditional and professional riders. Imagine if this is the case at the Festival; the complexion of the Foxhunter Chase could be very different.

No blame is being set at BHA's door. Like so much governance in this strange world we populate presently, it has had to fire-fight to retain the ability to stage racing every day. Unlike other sports, whose players have succumbed to symptoms or self-isolation, racing's players have been largely Covid-free, due to a rigorous bio-security programme that spectators to Barbury and Larkhill will already have experienced. Those pre-Christmas dates at both venues are looking like a fortunate happenstance now in hindsight.

The Foxhunter is looking like a vulnerable race at the Festival. With possible issues around qualification, and to be ridden by professionals, the race's problems are confounded by today's suspension of Irish Point-to-Points, leaving just three Hunter chases left to qualify for Cheltenham among those that haven't already.

Some of Ireland's best riders remain amateurs; horsemen of the calibre of Jamie Codd and Derek O'Connor (pictured). Should the restrictions remain in place in nine weeks time, then the unique nature of all three amateur races at the Festival will be called into question. After all, it's not as if our best amateurs cannot mix it with our top professionals: Sam Waley-Cohen, the late J T MacNamara, Katy Walsh and Marcus Armytage can testify to that.

At stake is the very heart of our sport; the ability for an amateur to rise out of the ranks and compete against the best. Come on vaccinators! Help us regain our sport's broad base of support.

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