I want to be better than dad! Star jockey Jonjo O’Neill Jnr wants to ride more winners than his father, who won 901 races during his career
- Jonjo O’Neill Jnr is on course to be this season’s champion conditional jockey
- He heads into Cheltenham hoping to add to his first winner at the meeting
- O’Neill wants to overtake his father, who won 901 races during his career
Jonjo O’Neill Jnr admits being made to complete his A Levels while contemporaries were forging their jockey careers was frustrating… but he is fast making up for lost time.
The 22-year-old is on course to be this season’s champion conditional jockey, with 58 wins already, and is on the crest of a wave with recent high-profile victories including the Denman Chase on Native River.
He heads to next week’s Cheltenham Festival full of hope that he can add to his first winner at the meeting — Early Doors 12 months ago. He also now realises that his parents, Jonjo Snr and Jacqui, made the right decision to insist he stuck to his books even though there were a ‘few heated discussions’.
Jonjo O’Neill Jnr is having a great season, and he wants to win more races than his father
Jonjo Jnr said: ‘I am about six months younger than Sean Bowen. He and his brother James went straight into racing while I had to finish school. When Harry Cobden and Sean were riding big Saturday winners for Paul Nicholls, I was still in the first year of my A levels watching.
‘It was a little frustrating. I was stuck at school thinking, “This is getting away from me. They will be so far ahead’’. But now I am catching them up and being a bit older am able to handle things a bit better. It has probably not been a bad thing.’ That maturity has certainly been tested. Being the son of a two-time champion jump jockey, who also landed one of the most memorable Cheltenham Gold Cup wins of all time on Dawn Run in 1986, meant Jonjo Jnr would be in the spotlight.
When your father has also trained a Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National winner that spotlight has the potential to be glaring. There has been adversity; having to cope with a broken leg and jaw, plus a fracture in his back which kept him on the sidelines for eight months.
Former jockey Jonjo O’Neill won 901 races during his career, and he is now a trainer
– Harry Skelton has been booked to ride the Paul Nicholls-trained Politologue in Wednesday’s Queen Mother Champion Chase, with Nicholls’ No 1 jockey Harry Cobden on Dynamite Dollars. Cobden will also ride the Colin Tizzard-trained Copperhead in the RSA Chase on the same day.
– Shakem Up’Arry, who is owned by Harry Redknapp, will run in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle on Wednesday. The gelding had been a leading contender for the Imperial Cup at Sandown today before that meeting was abandoned. Trainer Ben Pauling said: ‘It will be a big ask but he has always been highly regarded and in my eyes will run a very nice race.’
– Trainer Donald McCain says Navajo Pass is on course for Friday’s JCB Triumph Hurdle despite being also left in Wednesday’s Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle. McCain said: ‘The aim has always been the Triumph. We don’t see any reason to waver from that at the moment.’ Navajo Pass won the Grade Two Summit Juvenile Hurdle at Doncaster in December to register his second success from three starts over jumps.
‘Dad always used to say how hard racing was and was pushing us away from it,’ he said. ‘But that made me want to do it more.
‘People have probably been watching me and scrutinising me a bit more especially because I have the same name as well, but it doesn’t bother me.
‘I want to ride more winners than Dad did and be better than him, although I don’t say it to his face! I have seen all the videos. Watching him ride, he looked like he was ahead of his time. He had 901 winners — 149 winners one season.
‘An unbelievable total! Back then there was a two-month break in the season, no Sunday racing and the roads were not as good. It’s hard to live up to but something to aim at. If I could beat his total for a season, that would be pretty special.’
Jonjo Jnr has also been affected by the Law of Unintended Consequences. Breaking a leg during a cross country race in Ireland while still at school ultimately, and slightly perversely, persuaded him to pursue a career as a jockey rather than exploring the possibility of being a rugby player.
Then two lengthy suspensions and the broken jaw last year meant his progress was slowed enough for him to qualify for one last season as a conditional jockey.
Jonjo Snr won 901 races during his career between 1969 and 1987, Jnr has won 107 so far
‘I did not know how good I was going to get at rugby,’ he said. ‘I was in the Cheltenham College first team alongside Ollie Thorley, who plays for Gloucester and is in the England squad.
‘I was small, but very stocky. I was over 12st when I was at my heaviest. I have done 9st 7lb since I have been back racing so I have lost two-and-a-half stone. It could have gone either way but I thought I had more of a chance of making it in racing.’
Jonjo Jnr insists his dad never coached him. He was more influenced by Sir Anthony McCoy and Richie McLernon, a regular jockey at the O’Neills’ Cotswolds base for a 15 years.
The 22-year-old is on course to be this season’s champion conditional jockey with 58 wins
A stint at Aidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle stable also made the win on Early Doors extra special, with the winner of the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle being trained by Joseph O’Brien who Jonjo Jnr had worked alongside.
Mounts for next week will include his father’s Annie Mc in the Marsh Novices’ Chase and a clutch of good rides from Colin Tizzard’s stable including Mister Malarky in the Ultima Handicap Chase on Tuesday.
‘Annie Mc has won three novice chases easily,’ he said. ‘She will have to improve again but she’s exciting. I will hopefully pick up one or two that Robbie Power doesn’t ride at Colin’s. The second chances he has would be a star in anybody else’s yard.’
Jonjo Jnr is an Ambassador for Hospitality Finder who run corporate Hospitality at the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals.