Paul and Clare Rooney were back in the winner’s enclosure at Ayr on Wednesday – little over 24 hours after reports emerged suggesting the leading owners have instructed their trainers not to enter any horses at Cheltenham.
The Rooneys have enjoyed big-race success over jumps and on the Flat in recent years, recording winners at the Cheltenham Festival and Royal Ascot, but are understood to be boycotting the home of National Hunt racing due to safety concerns.
There was cheerier news for the owners on Wednesday as hot favourite Glittering Love landed a handicap chase at Ayr for in-form trainer Nicky Richards.
Cheltenham have still to hear from the Rooneys themselves, and while the owners have yet to go public on their views, it is thought a statement will be made at some stage.
The Rooneys claimed their first Festival winner in 2017 when the Ben Pauling-trained Willoughby Court won a thrilling Neptune Novices’ Hurdle.
However, they suffered heartbreak at the Gloucestershire venue later in the year after David Pipe’s Starchitect was fatally injured when looking the likely winner of the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup.
A number of racing figures have spoken out in defence of the track, and leading owner Andy Stewart has joined them.
It is a decade since Celestial Halo provided Stewart and his family with their first Festival success, in the Triumph Hurdle.
The following year the mighty Big Buck’s carried his colours to the first of four consecutive victories in the Stayers’ Hurdle, while last season Pacha Du Polder successfully defended his crown in the Foxhunter Chase.
Stewart told Press Association Sport: “We have had many runners at Cheltenham and I hope we’ll have many more.
“Simon Claisse is one of the best clerks of the course I’ve ever come across – and there are plenty of good ones. 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.
“I live in Barbados, but I’ll be back for Cheltenham in March. I’ll be there all four days, will hopefully have a runner every day and hopefully we might have a winner.
“I’m sure Old Guard could go back there after running well in the Relkeel Hurdle, Black Corton will hopefully run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and my dream is for Pacha Du Polder to win his third straight Foxhunter Chase.”
Another owner who has enjoyed Festival success is Terry Warner, most notably with 2003 Champion Hurdle hero Rooster Booster and 2006 Triumph Hurdle winner Detroit City.
Like Stewart, he admitted to being surprised by the Rooneys’ decision.
He said: “I think Cheltenham is first class. I think they look after everything particularly well and keep you informed.
“I wouldn’t have any complaints. We have lost horses there, but we have been racing for 40 years. We have lost the odd horse, but we have not in the last five years.
“I was amazed about the fuss. I find it fine.”
One of the trainers the Rooneys employ is Gold Cup and Grand National-winning handler Nigel Twiston-Davies, who is based less than 12 miles away from Cheltenham in Naunton.
He confirmed he has been asked not to enter his Rooney-owned horses at Cheltenham for the foreseeable future.
“That’s what they have asked us, not to run them here (Cheltenham) until further notice,” Twiston-Davies told www.gloucestershirelive.co.uk
“They pay the bills. When they ask me not to do something we don’t do it.
“It’s up to them, very much so. They pay the money.”