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Countdown to Cheltenham: What Government lockdown roadmap means for Festival; Champion Hurdle latest

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 4 days ago Malik Ouzia

The Government’s roadmap for easing lockdown announced yesterday confirmed that there will be no fans at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, nor will betting shops be allowed to open. 

Non-essential retail - including betting shops - cannot open up until April 12 at the earliest, meaning bookies will also be closed for the Grand National meeting at Aintree, while May 17 is the earliest date at which sporting venues will be able to admit reduced capacity crowds. 

However, the British Horse Racing Authority says it will engage with the government in the hope of allowing owners to return to courses “as soon as possible”, leaving a glimmer of hope that they could be back for the Festival.

Owners were allowed on track at various points last year, even as regular fans remained banned but that practice stopped with the arrival of a third national lockdown last month. 

Amateur riders still set to miss Cheltenham

Meanwhile, trainer Willie Mullins says things “aren’t looking good” for the prospects of amateur riders being allowed to compete at Cheltenham. 

Amateurs are barred from riding under current UK Covid restrictions, meaning the likes of Jamie Codd, Patrick Mullins and Derek O’Connor would miss out on the meeting.

“It’s looking tough at the moment, anyhow,” Mullins said. “It will give myself and Gordon (Elliott) and any other trainers with good amateurs a problem, but it will be what it is.”

Video: National Lottery ‘EuroMillions’ draw results from Tuesday 16th February 2021 (Daily Record)

In response to the new Government plans, the BHA said it would seek to clarify when amateurs could return. 

Saint Roi out but French wildcard poised for Champion Hurdle

Mullins’ Champion Hurdle team was given a bit of a shake up yesterday with the news that last year’s County Hurdle winner Saint Roi is out of the Festival. 

After a string of disappointments this season, Mullins said: “”He just hasn’t gone forward. He’s had one or two little niggles.”

However, the Closutton trainer does have a wildcard to throw into the mix in James Du Berlais, a new recruit from France who is yet to race in the UK or Ireland. 

“He had a very busy season in France last year and was bought as a novice chaser for next season, but it’s a long time to wait,” Mullins said.

“I was happy to run him somewhere, but I’m not going to run him in the Stayers’, so we said ‘let’s run in the Champion and have a go’, rather than do nothing the whole spring.” 

Racing coverage is brought to you in association with Betfair.Build your free bet pot for Cheltenham with Betfair. Bet £20 across UK & Irish racing, Get £10 free bet on the Cheltenham Festival. Runs every Saturday.

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