F EATURE JONJO O’NEILL SR. & JONJO O’NEILL JR.
The name does bring scrutiny but I have never really felt the pressure
and had winners off 9st 11lb so I lost over 2½st. To be honest it was all muscle and I didn’t really lose it the right way. I think it was a big factor in me getting fractures to my back through osteoporosis. If I had the chance again I wouldn’t have done it that way, but you live and you learn.” While Jonjo Jr. was enjoying success on the rugby field and settling into his senior school, Cheltenham College, his father was enjoying his most fruitful period as a trainer with a Grand National victory in 2010 with Don’t Push It, followed by success with Synchronised in the Cheltenham Gold Cup two years later. “It was around this time, when I was about 12, that I knew I wanted to be a jockey,” says Jonjo Jr. “I was fascinated with studying the form of both flat and jump racing at school. I was fanatical about racing and should have probably done a lot more school work than I did!” In spite of that, the most important lessons came back at home at Jackdaws Castle when riding out in the string with the likes of AP McCoy, Noel Fehily and Dominic Elsworth on his 13.2 racing pony from the age of ten; a schooling that is the norm for many children of racehorse trainers. Jonjo Sr. fondly remembers a young Jonjo spending time on the gallops. “He was away at boarding school so never really on the yard that much, but when he was, he was always out with the jockeys or in the jeep
it like I do and you give it your very best shot.” As with many jump jockeys, injury risk is high, and for Jonjo Jr. a string of injuries hampered any consistency or progression during the early stages of his career; although all the signs were there of what a talented rider he was. Now aged 23 – and with a couple of injury-free seasons behind him – he has built up a huge reputation as one of the finest young jockeys in the UK, tipped by many to reach the very top of the sport, and is often compared to the great AP McCoy. Yet, it all could have been very different. “To start with I loved arenacross (indoor motocross),” Jonjo Jr. says, “and, although not doing much of it at all, I always wanted to do that. It was always going to be something competitive within sport.” “At one point rugby was much more the focus,” Jonjo Sr. chips in. “I would say it was 50/50 between both sports for a while.” Nodding in agreement, his son adds: “I was playing rugby at school as well as riding. They’re not really sports you can do together and I knew deep down that I wasn’t going to make it in rugby properly. I always thought I had a good chance to make it as a jockey if I sorted my weight out. I was over 12st in my last rugby match and got down to 9st 4lb as an amateur the following year, and rode at 9st 7lb which I was no good at as it was far too light for me. I did 10st regularly
34 THE F E S T I VAL TM SUPPORT I NG WE L LCH I LD PREV I EW MAGAZ I NE
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