Mullins optimistic amateur issue can be resolved before Cheltenham

Willie Mullins remains hopeful his son Patrick will be able to ride at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Amateur jockeys are currently prevented from riding in Britain due to a tightening of coronavirus regulations, as they do not fall under the elite sport banner that enables racing to continue in Britain.

With the Festival not starting until March 16 this year though, Ireland’s champion trainer is optimistic his assistant can still be involved in the saddle.

Patrick Mullins won the Matheson Hurdle at Christmas aboard Sharjah
Patrick Mullins won the Matheson Hurdle at Christmas aboard Sharjah (PA)

“It was another surprise, but we are getting used to those in these pandemic times,” said Mullins on a call to promote this weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival.

“I’m hoping that something can be done because we’ve about eight weeks to go and hopefully the figures on both sides of the Irish Sea will be better and governments will be looking at things differently. That’s the best we could hope for at this stage.”

With his nephew David Mullins recently springing a surprise by announcing his retirement, Patrick would be in line for even more rides than usual.

“Certainly he would be a top member on our team at Cheltenham – he could have half a dozen nice rides, especially with David retiring, it puts him in for a lot more. He’s a top guy to have on your team over there,” said Mullins.

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“We’ve discussed it, but there’s nothing much we can do. Obviously there are talks ongoing. It’s very unfair on the top English amateurs too, like Mr (Sam) Waley-Cohen and Will Biddick. There are some top amateurs there and they look forward to Cheltenham like everyone else.

“I haven’t fully read through the protocol that keeps them out of it because I feel things might shift about in a month or six weeks time, and there might be a chance they can ride at the Festival.

“I’m sure Patrick and the other amateurs will be doing their best and we’ll be trying to help them as well.”

Willie Mullins' team at last year's Cheltenham Festival
Willie Mullins’ team at last year’s Cheltenham Festival (Simon Cooper/PA)

As for how the pandemic might affect his team in other ways, Mullins hopes staffing will not prove an issue.

“I hope it won’t be a smaller team because of everything. We’re making arrangements to have things in place ready to bring our usual team, but until we see what rules and regulations are going to be applied, all we can do is prepare the usual stuff,” he said.

“There are a few headaches. We’re trying to get a team of staff together – we’ve plenty to go, but we’re wondering about getting them back. I have people who work for me in England, so I’m getting them involved as well.

“I’m trying not to get too bogged down in it because the whole scenario could change in a month or six weeks, at least that is what we are hoping anyhow.”

Al Boum Photo was victorious on his New Year's Day return
Al Boum Photo was victorious on his New Year’s Day return (PA)

One horse not running at Leopardstown this weekend is dual Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo, who will head for a racecourse gallop in the coming days.

“Al Boum Photo is in great shape and he’ll do a major bit of work this week because he’s not running,” said Mullins.

“I need to get a good bit into him. My focus is just to get him there, I’m not getting sidetracked about the others.

“I was hoping to take him to Naas, but because of the Covid protocols that wasn’t possible. I have something organised and hopefully it will work out.”

Faugheen could be back at Punchestown
Faugheen could be back at Punchestown (Brian Lawless/PA)

Cheltenham will come too soon for the veteran Faugheen, but Punchestown is still in the mix after a setback earlier this season.

“Faugheen is just OK now, he’s certainly not going to run this weekend or anything, but we’ll try to prepare him for Punchestown. He’s in good shape anyhow.

“The way the season is panning out that will be the option that is left open, all being well,” said Mullins, who also had news of another of Rich and Susannah Ricci’s stars, Benie Des Dieux who was beaten by Honeysuckle last March.

“I’d say it will be straight to Cheltenham with her (Benie Des Dieux). The mares’ chase is a target I’ve had in mind for her, but we’ll see how both races cut up – we might have old business to attend to from last year!”

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