By Marcus Townend for the Daily Mail
Published: 20:15 GMT, 1 January 2019 | Updated: 20:55 GMT, 1 January 2019
Leading owners Clare and Paul Rooney have instructed their trainers not to enter horses at Cheltenham in a move which will ensure the welfare debate at the HQ of jumps racing remains a hot topic of discussion in the countdown to the Festival in March.
Trainers who have horses with the Rooneys, who have had 27 winners this season and are second to JP McManus in the jumps owners championship, confirmed they had received letters but were reluctant to comment further.
Former jockey Jason Maguire, who is now the Rooneys' racing manager, also declined to comment when asked to explain the decision.
Owner Paul Rooney has written to trainers to request they do not enter horses at Cheltenham
Rooney-owned Willoughby Court won the Neptune Investment Novices' Hurdle at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival but they have only had two runners at the course this season.
They have endured some unfortunate incidents involving their horses at the track.
Starchitect sustained a fatal injury when about to win the 2017 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup while Melrose Boy had to be put down following an operation to treat injuries sustained at last season's Festival.
The Rooneys' horse Melrose Boy had to be put down after injuries sustained at Cheltenham
The Rooneys' best horses headed by Harry Fry-trained Christmas Hurdle third If The Cap Fits would have been