Racing's most successful ever amateur jockey Patrick Mullins will leave any decision on whether or not to turn professional until as late as possible before the Cheltenham Festival.
The British Horseracing Authority’s ban on amateur riders competing until at least March 29th due to UK government Covid-19 restrictions means a number of top Irish amateur riders will miss out on the festival.
Mullins in particular had a number of high-profile mounts to look forward to for his father Willie Mullins including the Champion Hurdle hope Sharjah and the Champion Bumper favourite Kilcruit.
It means the multiple-champion amateur is “mulling” whether or not to make a dramatic switch to the professional ranks in time for jump racing’s biggest meeting of the year.
“I think I will have to make a decision before the end of next week. I’m mulling it over. I will try and leave it as late as I can,” he said on Sunday.
The picture is complicated though by whether or not Mullins could then return quickly to his amateur status after Cheltenham.
The licensing regulations state that as long as a rider hasn’t had more than 25 winners as a professional they can secure amateur status if permitted to by the regulatory authorities.
However, the question of when that amateur status is granted is in the hands of a licensing committee and they may require a certain period of time to elapse before doing so.
With Aintree, Fairyhouse and Punchestown coming on the back of Cheltenham, failure to secure a timely return to the amateur ranks could be a significant blow to Mullins.
On Sunday, the Mullins team maintained their run of form with another Graded race double at Naas, although neither winner looks like making the trip to Cheltenham.
Cilaos Emery made an impressive return to action in the Grade Three chase, justifying short odds with a ready defeat of his market rival Daly Tiger in his first start since November.
“The break did him no harm and he’s come back good and strong. He jumped great and I was really pleased. We’ll try and find another similar type race for him.
“I don’t know if he’ll travel [to Cheltenham] on that and there might be nice prizes on the home front. We did a lot of work on his jumping and I’m very please it has paid off,” Willie Mullins said.
The champion trainer also scored in the Grade Two Paddy Power Novice Hurdle with the 11-8 favourite Echoes In Rain.
“She’s learning how to settle and there was a good pace which helped her. There’s a race here in a fortnight that might be a little too soon for here and there is also a novice in Fairyhouse at Easter.
“She had a tough enough race there because she is tough on herself. Maybe the experience over hurdles is teaching her to race and it might do her no harm experience wise for the future,” he commented.
Charles Byrnes begins a six-month suspension from training later this week but will continue the countdown to that by having two runners at Punchestown on Monday.
The card switched from last week due to waterlogging features the opening Grade Three Quevega Hurdle although Byrnes’s focus will be on Doctor Duffy in the Pertemps Qualifier and Summer Tide in a maiden hurdle.
Doctor Duffy, the horse whose Munster National fall at Limerick in October put Davy Russell on the injury sidelines, hasn't run over flights in almost a year, although his rating in this sphere is lower than over fences.
Summer Tide hasn’t run since October and goes in a division of the two-mile maiden hurdle. Also in that is the latest Mullins-trained French recruit Rumoroso. He hasn’t been seen in action since September of 2018 when runner-up in a hurdle race in Bordeaux.
Mullins runs his English Cesarewitch winner Great White Shark in the feature event named after his former star mare who secured a record six Cheltenham festival victories between 2009 and 2014.
Great White Shark disappointed in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran in very testing conditions and slightly better ground now might see her edge out Black Tears.
The course bumper winner Humble Glory can get the better of Mullins’s The West Awaits in a mares’ maiden hurdle.