Rooneys to return to Cheltenham after grounds for concern

The Last Samuri, pictured winning the 2016 Grimthorpe Chase under David Bass at Doncaster, runs in the colours of Paul and Clare Rooney.
The Last Samuri, pictured winning the 2016 Grimthorpe Chase under David Bass at Doncaster, runs in the colours of Paul and Clare Rooney.
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LEADING owners Paul and Clare Rooney have instructed their trainers to resume making entries at Cheltenham racecourse.

It was revealed last month that the Rooneys had told their team of handlers to stop entering their horses at the track as they believed their runners were at further risk of injury at the Cotswold venue. Their horses include The Last Samuri who won the 2016 Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster under David Bass before finishing second in the Grand National.

However, following regular communication with the course, their self-imposed exile has come to an end and they could have as many as eight contenders, including The Last Samuri, at next month’s National Hunt Festival.

A statement issued on behalf of the Rooneys said: “As was widely reported in the media at the time, at the end of last year Paul and Clare Rooney instructed their trainers to suspend making their entries for races at Cheltenham Racecourse.

“That instruction was given in light of concerns over injury rates at the course. Since then, Paul and Clare Rooney have been in regular communication with the racecourse and with the BHA.

“Extensive information and data about all aspects of horse welfare at the course has been made available to them.

“They have also undertaken their own investigations into such matters. They look forward to supporting the course in future.”

Ian Renton, Cheltenham and South West Regional Director at Jockey Club Racecourses, added: “We are pleased that Paul and Clare have decided to make entries at Cheltenham.

“The team here takes immense care to provide a safe, world-class racing surface for more 
than 1,500 racehorses each 
year.”

Willie Mullins hopes he has the ammunition to finally break his Cheltenham Gold Cup hoodoo.

Kemboy, Bellshill, Al Boum Photo and Invitation Only give Ireland’s champion trainer an enviable hand as he seeks his first win in steeplechasing’s blue riband race. “It would be nice to win the Gold Cup, and we have as good a chance this year as any,” said Mullins, whose late father, Paddy, trained the 1986 heroine Dawn Run.

“Belshill jumps particularly well, and we saw Kemboy skip over those fences in Leopardstown. I hope he’ll be able to do the same in Cheltenham. I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Al Boum Photo yet. Invitation Only probably has to step up a bit. That’s the way I see the four of them.”

Ground, said Mullins, could be key. “Kemboy put in a huge performance at Christmas in Leopardstown on very good ground. If it comes up like that on the fourth day of Cheltenham - which it can - he must have a very good chance,” added the trainer.

Conditional rider Tommy Dowson, meanwhile – who rode Catterick trainer Phil Kirby’s stable star Lady Buttons to Grade Two success at Doncaster – completed a double at Sedgefield. One of the North’s best up and coming jump jockeys, he partnered David Thompson’s Shaiyzar to victory before prevailing on Beyondtemptation for Jonathan Haynes.

High Eldwick trainer Sue Smith has said that staying steeplechaser Sharp Response will not line up in tomorrow’s marathon Eider Chase at Newcastle. The horse had been a leading contender for the four-mile race following a career-best win in last month’s North Yorkshire Grand National at Catterick under Danny Cook.