Amateur riders in focus following National Hunt Chase that left BHA frustrated

Le Breuil, ridden by jockey Jamie Codd (right), won an attritional renewal of the National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase

Amateur jockeys are being urged to heed official welfare guidelines as doubts begin to surround the future of one of the Cheltenham Festival’s oldest races.

The National Hunt Chase provided an attritional conclusion to day one of this year’s Festival – in which only four of 18 runners completed the four-mile course on rain-softened ground, and favourite Ballyward was fatally injured after his fall at the 17th fence.

The stewards’ inquiry which followed brought swift action against three jockeys, suspended for a collective 37 days – with another Damien Skehan, who finished last on 125-1 shot Clondaw Cian, still to be interviewed.

A subsequent statement from a British Horseracing Authority spokesman confirmed the governing body was “extremely disappointed by the conduct of a small number of riders in the National Hunt Chase”.

The stewards ruled that Noel McParlan and Declan Lavery, who finished a distant third on Jerrysback, had both “continued in the race when it appeared to be contrary to the horse’s welfare”.

The Amateur Jockeys Association of Great Britain issued updated guidelines just last week, imploring members to take note of recommendations in the BHA’s Cheltenham Festival Review – published in December after seven equine deaths at the meeting last year.

On Wednesday morning, AJA chief executive Sarah Oliver again spelled out the imperative to adhere to the guidelines – noting the future of the National Hunt Chase, which is restricted to amateur riders, may be at stake.

“That is obviously a major concern,” she said of a near 160-year-old race pre-dated only by the Grand Annual as a Cheltenham fixture and which has been run more times than any other.

“Being the oldest historical race, we would hate to see it go – that would be a tragedy.”

The AJA’s advice became especially pertinent after heavy rain which preceded Tuesday’s card and made conditions so testing.

Oliver added: “Yesterday, the ground became more and more holding as the day progressed – and it was inevitable we would end up with tired horses.

“In those circumstances, of course, it is even more important that jockeys follow the guidelines we have published.”

The AJA prefaces the advice on its website with the following capitalised headline: “VERY IMPORTANT!!!!

It adds: “The welfare of horses is of paramount importance, and riders should be aware that they will be subject to greater public scrutiny at these fixtures than is typically the case.”

Reacting to the riding bans, the BHA said on Tuesday night that “amateur participation in its current form at future Festivals will be under material threat should further incidents occur”.

But Sir Anthony McCoy strongly disagrees with the actions of the stewards, and has hit out at the BHA.

The now-retired multiple champion jockey told ITV Racing: “I’m embarrassed for the BHA. Talk about bringing racing into disrepute.

“Two horses fell at the second-last, and a horse’s natural instinct is to more or less pull up. I never thought at any stage the jockey (Declan Lavery on Jerrysback) did the wrong thing.

“What about each-way punters? The horse’s welfare is not an issue – he was perfectly fine this morning.

“What if the first and second horse had fallen? What was the jockey supposed to do then?

“You explain (that) to the punters that backed the likes of Jerrysback, or the owner. Some poor owner would like to come to Cheltenham with a horse and walk into the winner’s enclosure and finish third or fourth – and you’re going to take that away from them?

“It’s an absolute disgrace – it’s indefensible.

“You get any person with jump-racing experience who comes here – whether it be a trainer, an owner, a jockey – who will (try to) defend that decision? I guarantee you will not find one senior person that will.”