Willoughby Court was forced to pull out of this week’s Cheltenham Festival, with reports suggesting that a short-term foot injury is expected to keep the seven-year-old on the sidelines for the immediate future. Prior to the race, trainer Ben Pauling admitted that Court’s chances were 70/30 to miss the event, confirming that he was not willing to risk such a high ability horse, despite heading into the festival as ante-post favourite for the JLT Novice’s Chase.
There were few certainties in the build up to this week’s Cheltenham Festival; however, many racing fans were anticipating Paul & Clare Rooney’s Willoughby Court to generate a huge amount of attention in the JLT Novice’s Chase. Since making his race debut in 2015, the 7yo gelding has claimed seven first-placed finishes over 11 events, averaging a 63.64 win percentage. An impressive run in the Neptune Investment Management Novice’s Hurdle at Cheltenham, followed by successive victories at Huntingdon and Newbury had made for a perfect end to 2017 for Willoughby Court, and many were expecting the horse to fare even better in 2018.
After missing out to Yanworth on New Year’s Day, Ben Pauling was looking ahead to Cheltenham as a fantastic opportunity to claim a second successive festival triumph, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be.
Willoughby Court is understood to have recently suffered pus in the foot, and whilst this is unlikely to become a significant injury, Pauling has opted to play it safe.
“He’s still not 100 per cent on his foot and at this stage we are not going to be able to get final work into him,” said Pauling
“There is no easy way about it. It’s a very sad day for us to rule him out but it’s the right thing to do by the horse.
“The last thing we want to do is kick on and cause another injury.
“Aintree is very much in mind. I was at the vets this morning and all being well we’ll be back on in four or five days’ time, and if that is the case we’ll be driving on for Aintree.”