Owners reverse decision to snub Festival after discussions and reassurances from track officials
The Rooney family are to enter horses for the Cheltenham Festival, it was announced by the racecourse on Thursday morning. Paul and Clare Rooney, who are among the most prolific owners in jump racing, made headlines last month when they instructed their trainers to make no further entries at the home of jump racing, because of concerns over injuries suffered by some of their runners at the track, but their fears have evidently been allayed.
“They’ll have plenty of entries,” confirmed Jason Maguire, their racing manager. He mentioned I’m A Game Changer as one of their more likely contenders for the Festival’s handicaps. The Last Samuri and Kruzhlinin could represent the Rooneys in the Foxhunter Chase.
A statement from Cheltenham said the Rooneys had been in regular discussions with officials there and with the sport’s ruling body over the past month. “Extensive information and data about all aspects of horse welfare at the course has been made available to them,” it said. “They have also undertaken their own investigations into such matters.
“In light of that, Paul and Clare Rooney have confirmed that they have instructed their trainers that they may resume making entries for races at Cheltenham. They look forward to supporting the course in future as part of their overall commitment to National Hunt racing.”
Ian Renton, who manages Cheltenham for the Jockey Club said: “The team here takes immense care to provide a safe, world-class racing surface for more than 1,500 racehorses each year.”
The Rooneys have so far declined to make any public comment on the subject but it did not take long for their decision last month to leak into the public domain, following an email they sent to all trainers with whom they have horses. This reversal of their decision will be especially welcome to Cheltenham at a time when the track’s safety record is under continual scrutiny, following seven horse deaths at last year’s Festival. That led to a review and 17 recommendations for various improvements which, it is hoped, will help to reduce risk at the four-day race-meeting next month.
Thursday’s best bets
The pick of today’s Huntingdon card appears to be in the very first race, in which Western Morning (2.15) gets to run off the same mark as when he won last week. The most notable difference is that that was his chasing debut, whereas here he returns to hurdles.
Perhaps he’s always going to need fences to bring out the best in him but his half-brother was able to win over hurdles as well as the larger obstacles and it might be worth taking a chance that Western Morning is just an improving horse. His win, after all, came on only his fourth start for Milton Harris, his form shows an upward curve and he is not completely exposed in handicaps. A year ago, he was running off a 12lbs higher mark.
At Sedgefield, it could be worth taking a chance on Trooblue (4.25), who scored over course and distance two runs ago. Sue Smith’s mare flopped when favourite at the same track last time but that probably came too soon, only 10 days after her win, and she lost a shoe. She’s still a stone lower than the mark she had over hurdles in the autumn.
The nap goes at Wolverhampton tonight. Paradise Boy (5.40) was a comfortable winner on his second start at Lingfield last month and this step back in distance looks sensible, in view of how keen he was that day. He seems a bright enough prospect to defy a penalty in what is probably not a strong novice, which is why he’s a 5-4 shot.