IRISH trainers heading to Cheltenham are expected to go there with ALL their top stars, despite the surge in Covid-19 cases, SunSport can reveal.
There had been fears the pandemic would stop Ireland’s biggest horse racing names from travelling to National Hunt’s showpiece event in March, or at least significantly reduce the numbers.
But this is highly unlikely to be the case as superstars such as Al Boum Photo, on course for a historic third Gold Cup in a row, expect to be on the boat over.
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A source told the Irish Sun: "There has been all this talk that the Irish won’t be able to travel or if they do their numbers will be significantly down but the travel ban to the UK has now ended.
"It’s a matter for the likes of Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott and Henry de Bromhead but Cheltenham is ten weeks away and it’s certainly hoped that things will certainly improve in the weeks and months ahead.
"Organisers of horse racing meetings have learned a lot over the past ten months and events have all continued behind closed doors.
"Irish horses have all travelled to the UK already so at this point no one is thinking of that.
"All the strongly fancied horses will go and it will be up to the trainers then after that.
"In fact it’s Brexit which is causing a bigger bureaucratic headache than Covid right now."
It was feared other huge Irish runners such as Envoi Allen and Honeysuckle could be among the horses to miss out.
But top trainer Willie Mullins – Cheltenham's most successful ever with 72 winners – said he is already planning on bringing a full team.
He said: "I spoke to Cheltenham yesterday morning confirming that we’re all set to come over.
"I’m hoping, like a lot of people, that we might be over the worse of the pandemic by then. Cheltenham is ten weeks away and I hope it’ll be a whole different scenario in four to six weeks time.
"We’re not changing anything at this point. We’re continuing as normal and hoping the health situation in both countries will improve drastically once these lockdowns take effect.
"I’ll be looking at the thing positively. We’ll be keeping negative thoughts to the back of our minds and keep motoring on with a positive attitude for the moment.
"It’s not a problem until it presents itself as a problem."
Restrictions were placed on travel over the Christmas period, with no Irish runners travelling to the UK and vice versa, while jockey Robbie Power, who had moved across the Irish sea to ride full time, came home to Ireland to be with his family.
Horse Racing Ireland Chief Executive Brian Kavanagh has said they will always follow whatever advice they are given by the Government.
He said: "The concern from Government is very clear: these are exceptional times and a travel ban with the UK is a once-in-a-generation occurrence.
"Irish racing has followed Government advice at all times during Covid-19 and will continue to do so."
At the last two Cheltenham Festivals, horses trained in Ireland have accounted for 38 per cent of all runners, a total of 180 horses in 2020 and 187 in 2019.
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