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The kids are all right: Jonjo O'Neill excited to let his youthful string loose

Jonjo O'Neill (right) with sons AJ (centre) and Jonjo Jr (left) at the trainer's open day
Jonjo O'Neill (right) with sons AJ (centre) and Jonjo Jr (left) at the trainer's open day

Anticipation is in the air at Jackdaws Castle with trainer Jonjo O'Neill hoping years of rebuilding can pay off as he prepares to enter the core jumps season with a team full of youth and potential.

A tally of 82 winners last season was the highest recorded by O'Neill since he last topped a century during the 2014-15 campaign, and was a sure sign the stable's year-on-year investment in young bloodstock is beginning to reap its rewards.

The 70-year-old welcomed 200 guests to the yard's annual owners' day at the weekend, when visitors got the chance to see an array of unexposed youngsters O'Neill is hoping will become familiar names in the coming seasons.

"We were short of young horses a couple of years ago so we had to restock," said the trainer. "The pointers cost so much and are hard to buy so we bought lots of nice stores and they're just shaping up now. Hopefully we've got some really nice ones to look forward to.

"We're raring to go and looking forward to October and getting the show on the road. It's probably the strongest team we've had for a few years but they are young horses. There's no superstar in the yard at this stage but there's some nice quality and hopefully they come good. It's exciting."

Guests enjoy Jonjo O'Neill's open day over the weekend
Guests enjoy Jonjo O'Neill's open day over the weekend

O'Neill explained that of the 120-strong team at Jackdaws, 35 are unraced four-year-olds that should hopefully start in bumpers this season and a further squad of 34 to go novice hurdling, so it is not a forlorn hope that a star will emerge.

Sadly O'Neill's 27th and most recent Cheltenham Festival winner, Sky Pirate, was an absent friend, having suffered what proved a fatal back injury in the Celebration Chase at Sandown on the final day of last season.

"That was sad," said the trainer of the 2021 Grand Annual winner. "Everyone loved him and he was a cracking individual. It was just nice to get the hang of him in the end but it took us long enough."

Unsurprisingly, given the make-up of the yard, the trainer expects to be most productive in the novice hurdle division this season but the likes of 2021 Betfair Hurdle winner Soaring Glory and Ladbrokes Trophy (now Coral Gold Cup) scorer Cloth Cap head a scaled-down team of older horses.

"We haven't schooled Soaring Glory over fences yet but we will soon and if he does jump well he'll go novice chasing," said O'Neill. "He seems stronger and his family were good, strong chasers. Cloth Cap is ten and could go on to veteran races. If he hits form, the Scottish National might be a long-term aim."

Soaring Glory (maroon silks) could go novice chasing this season
Soaring Glory (maroon silks) could go novice chasing this seasonCredit: Alan Crowhurst (Getty Images)

Anyharminasking, the only horse to have finished in front of Constitution Hill in competitive action when beating the Supreme Novices' Hurdle hero in a Tipperary point-to-point, rounded off last season with two handicap successes over hurdles.

"He could start off in something like the Listed handicap hurdle at Ascot Soaring Glory won last year and could be one for those better two-mile handicap hurdles," said O'Neill, who also revealed that Springwell Bay, a €155,000 purchase who won by 14 lengths on his debut for the yard in a Market Rasen bumper last November, has returned to the yard after suffering a setback during that success.

He added: "It was a nasty injury – he fractured a joint. He has a screw in there now but he seems fine."

Time To Get Up, winner of the 2021 Midlands National, has the Welsh Grand National on his agenda, while Warwick bumper winner Are U Wise To That and Newbury bumper runner-up Collectors Item are two youngsters held in high regard.

As well as son and stable jockey Jonjo O'Neill Jr, the Gold Cup and Grand National-winning trainer also works alongside his youngest son AJ, who is assistant trainer at Jackdaws and close to completing his BHA training modules.

Working closely with family appears to have reinvigorated O'Neill snr in recent years and he was not ruling out AJ joining him on the training licence at some stage in the future.

"It's a possibility it may happen if he wants to do it," said O'Neill. "But I don't want to put pressure on him and tie him down. Jonjo [O'Neill Jr] and AJ get on well and are interested in training."

Jonjo O'Neill Jr: 'It's definitely the most excited I've been going into a season'
Jonjo O'Neill Jr: 'It's definitely the most excited I've been going into a season'Credit: Mark Cranham

O'Neill Jr, 25, enjoyed a first Grade 1 success aboard the Nicky Henderson-trained Champ last season and is hoping the firepower at Jackdaws Castle can help him edge past his personal best of 62 winners this season.

"I was just off my best last season on 59 and was injured for three months, so if I can stay injury free hopefully I can top that," he said. "We've got a lot of horses in for the winter and the focus is on quality more than anything else.

"We've had a four or five-year plan and when you buy them as three-year-olds it does take two or three years until they go novice hurdling. It feels like they've been here for ages but everyone else hasn't seen them yet.

"To have 120 horses to actually go to war with is quite exciting and it's definitely the most excited I've been going into a season."

Read this next:

'We've got our best team ever' - Harry Fry expecting a big season

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Published on 4 September 2022inNews

Last updated 11:46, 5 September 2022