Rooney U-Turn on Cheltenham Festival Handicaps

| February 22, 2019
Trainer Paul Rooney withdrew horses from the Cheltenham meeting until safety of the track was addressed.

In December Paul and Claire Rooney, who are high-profile trainers in the UK, informed their trainers by letter that they were not to enter any of their horses into races at Cheltenham this year. The pair had felt that there was an increased injury risk to horses using the track and with animal welfare at the front of everything they do, it was not a risk they wanted to take. Blackbook.com.au takes up the story.

In December 2017, Starchitect lost his life on the course after a fatal injury, and this was the beginning of the end for the relationship between the owners and the course. The horse had been on track to win the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, and his death was felt to be entirely the fault of the venue. In 2018 six more horses lost their lives on the course, and while sadly there is always a risk to life in any event competition the number of fatalities prompted a review from the BHA, which included senior inspector Richard Linley.  The report passed back to Cheltenham contained 17 recommendation to improve the welfare of the horses directly. 

Once these recommendations had been implemented, Jason Maguire, a former jump jockey himself who now holds the title of racing manager with the Rooney’s stable had a meeting with Simon Claisse who is the clerk of the course at Cheltenham to discuss the original concerns and learn in depth about the recommendations that the BHA made, and how these were addressed. Following this meeting, he reported back to the bosses who now feel it is safe to have their horses compete at the festival this year. 

Speaking to reporters, Paul Rooney confirmed that he was now happy enter horses: ”We’re pleased with what Cheltenham are doing to address our concerns, and we’re looking forward to racing back at the track in the near future, as and when the races are right for our horses. Cheltenham and the clerk of the course Simon Claisse have addressed the issues, and I’m really happy with what they’ve done. They’ve put my mind at rest that we’re going forward in the right direction and the welfare of the horses is paramount.”

On the back of this the stable has confirmed that they will be entering eight of their horses and the Cheltenham and South West Regional Director at Jockey Club Racecourses, Ian Renton confirmed that the industry was delighted with this decision when he said “We are pleased that Paul and Clare have decided to make entries at Cheltenham and look forward to their horses competing at the festival.” He went on to confirm that race safety was something that the Jockey Club takes incredibly seriously and Cheltenham was no exception. He said that BHA inspections were welcomed, but it does seem to the outside world as if issues had somehow managed to slip through, but thanks to the action of the Rooney’s following some nasty incidents things seem to have been rectified.

Category: International

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