Jonjo O’Neill on Sunday spoke of his immense pride after his son Jonjo jnr upheld family tradition with a high-profile victory in Saturday’s Lanzarote Hurdle on Big Time Dancer.
O’Neill, one of the greatest ever jump jockeys and now a successful trainer, has played a big part in aiding the 20-year-old’s career development. But he was particularly pleased his son’s breakthrough win came for another trainer.
Despite sharing the name of the rider of Dawn Run and Sea Pigeon, O’Neill jnr was keen to stress he was his own man after winning the £45,000 Kempton race for Jennie Candlish, and his father believes that approach will stand him in good stead.
“It was nice to see him ride a good winner on the telly and the fact it was for someone else is important,” said O’Neill.
“He’s mad keen, he’s always wanted to do it and has worked hard at it. It’s great to see it come right. He helps out in the yard and when he wants a bit of advice he usually asks. But he rides for other people and wants to make it as a freelance – that’s important to him.”
Jonjo O’Neill jnr with the Lanzarote Hurdle winner Big Time Dancer
Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
O’Neill jnr, a graduate of the pony racing circuit, has ridden 26 jumps winners, including a solitary success in Ireland, and four on the Flat since starting out in 2015. However, he was close to pursuing a different sport.
“He was a good rugby player at school and it got to a point when he was getting a bit bulky and had to make his mind up, and he decided on racing,” said O’Neill.
“I might be able to help him a little bit there, but I know nothing about rugby other than Munster beat Gloucester the other night.”
O’Neill jnr impressed by producing a cool ride on Big Time Dancer at Kempton, and has also showed a determination to bounce back after missing much of last season through injury.
“He weighs things up, susses things out and thinks about the job,” said O’Neill. “Although he’s not had the greatest of luck with injuries, hopefully it will be onwards and upwards now and he’ll keep improving with experience.”
Rocco set to return
O’Neill, who has won the Grand National and Cheltenham Gold Cup as a trainer, is looking forward to getting top chaser Minella Rocco back on track.
Off since falling in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown nearly a year ago, the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up is set for an imminent return to action.
“We’re hoping to run him in the Sky Bet Chase in two weeks’ time and I’ve also put him in the Irish Gold Cup the week after just in case the ground at Doncaster is too quick,” said the trainer.
“He hurt himself and had a little fracture when he came back into training and we’ve taken our time with him, but he’s in grand form now. He’s had his issues but if you can get him right on the day he’s still a fair horse.”
He added: “We’ll see how he runs and plan from there but he needs to get back into racing mode and get match-fit for wherever he goes later on, be it the Gold Cup or Grand National.”
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