Cheltenham and the Rooneys: Owners defend course over boycott

A general view from behind as the field jump a fence during a race at Cheltenham racecourse
Jump racing's big Cheltenham Festival meeting takes place this year from 12-15 March

Leading owners have defended Cheltenham after Paul and Clare Rooney told trainers they do not want their horses to race at the course.

The Rooneys are said to be concerned the home of jump racing could pose a greater risk of injury to their horses.

Starchitect, owned by the couple, broke a leg when leading in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at the track in December 2017 and had to be put down.

Terry Warner, whose horses Rooster Booster and Detroit City won the 2003 Champion Hurdle and 2006 Triumph Hurdle respectively at Cheltenham, said the course was "first class" and that the organisers "look after everything particularly well and keep you informed".

"I wouldn't have any complaints," he said. "We have lost horses there, but we have been racing for 40 years and have not lost a horse there in the last five years.

"I was amazed by the fuss."

Andy Stewart, who won four straight Stayers' Hurdle titles with Big Buck's from 2009 to 2012 at Cheltenham, said he hoped to have "many more" runners at the track.

"Simon Claisse is one of the best clerks of the course I've ever come across - and there are plenty of good ones," he said.

"Ian Renton has also done a fantastic job as chief executive since taking over from Edward Gillespie.

"I read John Hales (owner) saying the Cheltenham Festival is the Olympics of National Hunt racing and I couldn't agree more," he added.

Last month, a review into the deaths of six horses at the showpiece Cheltenham Festival meeting warned welfare issues threaten the future of the sport if not addressed.

It emerged a seventh horse, Melrose Boy - owned by the Rooneys - was put down as a result of an injury sustained in the March fixture.

Extra veterinary checks, alterations to some race conditions and a major project to study faller rates are among 17 recommendations from the review.

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