GBI RACING

Pauling voices trainer’s respect for Rooneys’ Cheltenham boycott

Willoughby Court on his way to winning at the Cheltenham Festival

Trainer Ben Pauling believes owners Paul and Clare Rooney may yet have runners at Cheltenham again, despite their decision not to enter any of their horses at the track for the foreseeable future.

The Rooneys have enjoyed big-race success over jumps and on the Flat in recent years, including a Cheltenham Festival winner when the Pauling-trained Willoughby Court won a thrilling Neptune Novices’ Hurdle two years ago.

However, they suffered heartbreak at the Gloucestershire venue later that year when David Pipe’s Starchitect was fatally injured in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup – and it emerged on New Year’s Day that the leading owners were boycotting the home of National Hunt racing because of safety concerns.

Speaking on Racing TV’s Luck on Sunday programme, Pauling said: “First and foremost, Paul and Clare have been huge supporters of mine from the start -and right from the word go, the most important thing for them was horse welfare, making sure a horse was looked before, after and during a race.

“It is completely their call whether they want to run horses at Cheltenham. They are the owners – they pay the bills – and they are actually fabulous people to train for.

“They’ve obviously had misfortune at Cheltenham, and for the moment they have asked us not to enter horses there – as the trainer, I respect that 100 per cent.”

Pauling revealed the Rooneys have contacted Cheltenham officials, and he hopes a resolution can be found.

He said: “I believe they’ve written a letter to Cheltenham, and I don’t know if they’ve had a response.

“Once they’ve had a response, things might be able to move forward. We’ll see where it goes.

“For me personally, the decision doesn’t have a huge impact – because although Willoughby Court will be absolutely fine, he probably won’t be seen out again this season.

“Who knows? It might all be completely done and dusted, and everyone might be absolutely fine again in a few months’ time. There’s just no knowing.”

He added: “I think what everyone needs to remember is Paul and Clare are not people that make a big fuss, in my honest view and in my experience.

“They’re very easy people to deal with. They have obviously got a slight issue at the moment with Cheltenham. From their personal experience, they’ve had an higher injury rate (at Cheltenham) themselves.

“I’m not saying that’s the same for every owner or every trainer, because I personally haven’t picked up that many injuries at Cheltenham – although one was a Rooney horse.

“They’re trying to keep it quiet – they’re not shouting about it. They’ve written a letter, and they’re waiting for a response.

“I’m a big fan of Cheltenham and a big supporter of Cheltenham myself – and for a lot of my other owners, all they want to do is have a Cheltenham runner.

“I think there’s a bit too much being made of this at the moment, and hopefully it can all be resolved at some point soon.”

When contacted, a spokesperson for Cheltenham Racecourse confirmed dialogue with the Rooneys has begun.

A statement read: “We are now in communication with Mr and Mrs Rooney, and you will understand at this point those are private discussions to understand their position following the recent media reports.”

Headlines