At the start of January I wrote a piece about how Paul and Clare Rooney had told their trainers that they didn’t want their horses to be entered into races at Cheltenham Racecourse indefinitely.
The decision came on the back of the British Horseracing Authority’s investigation into the deaths of 7 horses during the 2018 Cheltenham Festival, as well as the death of Rooneys own horse Starchitect.
In 2019 the likes of I’m A Game Changer and If The Cap Fits were set to miss out on horse racing’s showpiece meeting, but it now appears as though the pair have decided to reverse their decision.
Starchitect broke a leg when running the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Prestbury Park in December 2017, having to be put down as a result. Added to the death of Melrose Boy during the 2018 Festival, the Rooneys had seemingly felt as though the risks to their horses were not worth taking this year.
Now the pair have released a statement confirming that ‘they have instructed their trainers that they may resume making entries for races at Cheltenham’.
Why Have The Rooneys Changed Their Minds?
In the statement the pair confirmed that they have been in contact with the British Horseracing Authority ever since the organisation released the findings of their investigation into events at the track, as well as speaking with Cheltenham Racecourse regularly.
As well as undertaking their own investigation into the welfare of horses, the Rooneys were given access to data and information about numerous aspects of how horses are looked after at the Gloucestershire course.
Things came to a head in mid-February when the Regional Head of Racing and Clerk of the Course at Cheltenham Racecourse, Simon Claisse, and the Rooneys’ Racing Manager, Jason Maguire, had a meeting in order to discuss what could be done to bring the pair back into the fold. Jockey Club Racecourses’ Cheltenham and South West Regional Director, Ian Renton, said that he was ‘pleased’ that they would be allowing their horses to race and that he and the BHA do everything possible to ‘ensure the highest welfare standards are delivered’.
Significant Boost In A Gloomy Month
The BBC’s horse racing correspondent, Cornelius Lysaght, believes that this is a ‘significant’ story, with many fearing for the reputation of the sport if two of the biggest jump racing owners had boycotted an event at the horse racing equivalent of Lord’s of Wembley.
He argues that it was hugely important for the venue to have won the Rooneys back round before Cheltenham gets underway, or else their absence would have been ‘hanging over the event’. The issue of welfare at the Gloucestershire course is still very much on the agenda, however, given the number of equine deaths at Cheltenham over the past few years.
According to Horse Death Watch, at least 2 horses have died during the Cheltenham Festival every year since 2014. The BHA’s investigation produced a list of potential changes that they recommended be carried about by Cheltenham Racecourse, including alterations to fences, certain race conditions and extra checks by veterinary surgeons.
The Rooneys obviously feel that the Festival’s organisers have taken those recommendations seriously enough, given that they are now allowing their trainers to enter their horses into races again.
Following fears that Cheltenham may not even go ahead in light of the equine flu outbreak, along with a constant flow of other negative news headlines associated with the course and jump racing, this will come as a boost for all involved in the Festival.
Cheltenham Pleased With Outcome
While Cheltenham Racecourse officials were unwilling to provide a comment when rumours of the Rooneys pulling out of the Festival emerged earlier in the year, Ian Renton was quick to offer one when news of their return emerged. He said, “We are pleased Paul and Clare have decided to make entries at Cheltenham and look forward to their horses competing in the Festival.”.
For their own part, the Rooneys were keen to point out that they have long had a good relationship with the racecourse and were keen to keep working with it in the future. As part of their statement they said that they ‘look forward to supporting the course in future as part of their overall commitment to National Hunt racing’.