Cheltenham Festival 2021: Covid-19 restrictions on amateur sport to aid horse welfare

Racehorse enjoying a happy retirement. Credit: Mike Mitchell

There will be no amateur jockeys riding in the three amateur races at this year’s Cheltenham Festival due to Covid restrictions on grassroots sport.

The National Hunt Chase will now see the maximum of 16 amateur riders replaced by professional jockeys with many believing this will aid horse welfare.

Dene Stansall of Animal Aid believes that not having amateurs riding on a specialist course such as Cheltenham, will make it safer for the novice horses who are competing.

He said: “Amateur riders and novice horses. That’s a recipe for disaster. No amateur riders this year is a good thing.

“It would be better putting it on a smaller track with easier fences but the BHA totally ignored that when they reviewed the race “

2020 renewal of the National Hunt Chase

The National Hunt Chase is run over three miles and six furlongs making it the Festival’s longest event. A 2020 review into the race saw the distance reduced and minimum entry requirements for horses and jockeys introduced.

Over the past three years a total of 48 runners have lined up at the start for the festival’s longest race. Only 17 of those starters have finished, with over a quarter of racehorses falling or unseating their riders at fences.

Critics believe that the combination of track, race distance and jumps, make it too difficult for amateur jockeys to negotiate the event safely, with a number of horses losing their life in multiple renewals of the race.

Stansall added: “These people do have their day on a horse but why they have to go in the limelight on a championship course such as Cheltenham is highly questionable

“We’ve seen horses killed in that race year on year. Many years ago when it was first run it tradition to hold it on courses that were known as point to point courses”

Animal Aid on National Hunt Chase

The horses involved in this race are novice jumpers so mistakes at fences are to be expected. Especially, when the fences at Cheltenham are notoriously stiff,

The British Horse Racing Authority have implemented practices to only allow horses with a certain rating into the race whilst still keep it open to solely novices. A better calibre of horse could help curb the number of fatalities in the event.

The introduction of new rules and professional jockeys may result in less casualties in this gruelling event. Come March 16, the calling to stop amateurs riding at championship courses could gather pace.

The Amateur Jockeys Association have been approached for comment.