MAXINE O’Sullivan will not be seeking a professional jockey’s licence in order to maintain her partnership with It Came To Pass in the St James’s Place Open Hunter Chase at Cheltenham, a race they won last year.
It was confirmed this week that amateur riders would not be allowed to compete at next month’s Festival, with professionals now required to do the steering in the National Hunt Chase, Kim Muir and Open Hunter Chase.
O’Sullivan’s father Eugene, trainer of It Came To Pass, said yesterday: “Maxine definitely won’t be changing her licence for Cheltenham. I have someone else in mind for the ride but will leave it closer to the day before confirming that.”
It Came To Pass appeared to run below form at Thurles earlier this week, looking beaten when unshipping his rider at the third last fence. However, the trainer reported: “The horse is in great form and I am very happy with him.”
Patrick Mullins is set to miss out on the ride aboard two Cheltenham favourites unless he applies for a professional licence, a move he said he was strongly considering. Mullins is the regular rider of leading hunter chaser Billaway and top bumper horse Kilcruit.
A ruling was made in January that amateurs would be temporarily prevented from competing under Rules in Britain because of an ongoing rise in Covid-19 infections.
The move was made by the racing industry’s Covid-19 steering group, which constantly reviews coronavirus protocols to determine how racing can continue to strengthen its approach.
The group said at the time it had reached its decision because it “is in line with Government restrictions around the definition of elite sport and the associated suspension of grass roots sport”, and it is understood that position remains.
Top amateur Derek O’Connor commented: “I would have hoped to have picked up rides in all the amateur races, and obviously it’s disappointing – but it’s just unfortunate.
“I suppose the most important thing is the Festival going ahead. If this is a small, little help to getting the Festival to go ahead trouble-free, it’s not a big ask.
“I hope we’ll be able to be back for Aintree, which is quite important as well. The hunter chases would be the biggest loss because those are the races that are most associated with amateur riders – the hunter chase in Cheltenham and the hunter chase in Aintree. Hopefully things will have settled down a bit by the time we get round to Aintree.”
Jamie Codd added: “For us qualified riders in Ireland, and the amateurs in England, it’s a huge blow. Cheltenham is where we really like to be competing and showcasing our status. It’s hugely disappointing, but the UK Government have their decision made and fingers crossed we can all get back for the hunter chase in Aintree.
“We’re in strange times, so we just have to dust ourselves off and there’s a lot of people worse off than us – that’s the way you have to look at it.”