Rooneys keep quiet on Cheltenham boycott as decision comes under scrutiny
Leading owner Paul Rooney on Wednesday declined to shed any light on the shock revelation he and his wife Clare were refusing to allow their horses to run at Cheltenham, but intimated discussions over the matter were ongoing.
The boycott of the home of jump racing by one of the sport’s most significant and prolific owners due to concern of a heightened risk of injury to their horses – revealed by the Racing Post on Monday – caused consternation on Tuesday, with a number of prominent racing figures rallying around Cheltenham in support of the course.
The Rooneys have had only two representatives at Cheltenham this season from nearly 150 runners – and none since the first day of the November meeting – having notified their numerous trainers not to make entries at the track for their sizeable string until further notice.
While not wishing to expand on the reasons behind notifying trainers not to run at Cheltenham, Paul Rooney said: "A number of things are happening at this time and there may be some more news on this in a few days' time. But for the moment we have no comment on the situation."
The Rooneys have become increasingly influential owners in British jump racing with only JP McManus having had more runners and winners in recent seasons.
They are regulars towards the top of the owners’ championship and 20 trainers have this season saddled runners in their familiar dark blue and yellow silks, their latest success coming at Ayr on Wednesday with Glittering Love.
The motivation behind the Cheltenham decision is believed to be their concern that the track presents more of a threat of injury following analysis of their own data.
The couple's Melrose Boy was put down as a result of injuries sustained at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, while Starchitect was fatally injured when clear in the 2017 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup.
Starchitect’s trainer David Pipe on Wednesday said the loss of the horse had deeply affected everyone at his yard, but added that Cheltenham was second to none when it came to equine care.
"Paul and Clare were very upset," recalled Pipe. "We were all very upset, especially Susie [Crockett] who looked after him.
"To have that empty stable the next day was hard to take. Any loss of a horse is terrible and the manner in which he was running at the time meant he was going to put up the performance of his life.
"The Rooneys were deeply upset and had their own views about Cheltenham, and that’s their absolute prerogative as they buy the horses and pay the bills."
He added: "Unfortunately, what happened to Starchitect is part of the sport, and it can happen when they’re out in the fields on their holidays.
"Cheltenham do a fantastic job and every owner wants to run there, and they want to run there only if it’s safe for their horses. They do a fantastic job on that front, as do all the courses."
Officials at Cheltenham said on Wednesday they had yet to speak with the Rooneys about the matter, and would not comment on the situation until such time the reasons behind the decision had been made public.
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