Clare Rooney (left) and husband Paul (right) with Cartmel winner Never Never in 2014


Concerns Cheltenham is contributing to an increased risk of injury to their horses have resulted in leading owners Paul and Clare Rooney instructing trainers not to make entries for their string at the home of jump racing.

Paul Rooney, 71, and his wife Clare, 52, have written to their trainers informing them they do not want their horses to be considered for races at Cheltenham for the time being due to worries their runners at the course are at a heightened threat of potential harm.

The prolific owners have been huge supporters of jump racing in Britain, finishing in the top four in the owners’ championship for the last four seasons, with only JP McManus having had more runners and winners in that time. Yet the Rooneys have been almost entirely absent from Cheltenham this season.

Starchitect: suffered a fatal injury when clear in the 2017 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham

John Grossick (racingpost.com/photos)

Their familiar blue and yellow silks were carried to victory in the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2017 by Willoughby Court, but they have been sighted only twice at the track from their 138 runners over jumps this season. By comparison, they had 17 runners at the course in 2017-18, their joint-highest alongside Worcester.

The most recent runner at Cheltenham for the Rooneys came on the Friday of the November meeting, while no entries were made for the two-day December meeting or for New Year’s Day.

As well as success at Cheltenham, the Rooneys suffered heartbreak when Starchitect sustained a fatal injury in the closing stages when clear in the 2017 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, after which Paul Rooney said: “Clare and I are very passionate about our horses and whatever it costs we put it right. The horses’ welfare comes above winning races.”

Willoughby Court: on his way to victory in the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival

Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)

The Racing Post understands the Rooneys, who have boosted their involvement in Flat racing during the last few years and have a fortune estimated at more than £100 million, remain committed to ownership over jumps, to which their support has been increasingly significant in the number of horses they have and spread of yards they have patronised.

Safety at Cheltenham was scrutinised after the death of six horses at the last festival, and one afterwards as a result of injuries sustained at the meeting, leading to a BHA review that resulted in 17 recommendations to improve equine welfare.

Watch Willoughby Court winning the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival

Among the implementations set to take place are pre-race veterinary checks on all runners at the festival, monitoring and analysis of faller rates and a continuation of trials by Jockey Club Racecourses, the owner of Cheltenham, into the use of padded hurdles and methods for improving obstacle visibility.

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