F EATURE JONJO O’NEILL SR. & JONJO O’NEILL JR.
Although the 2019/20 Jump racing season was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic, Jonjo Jr. still managed to ride 61 winners, 26 more than his nearest rival and a number that saw him comfortably win the British Champion Conditional Jockey title. He has already passed 50 winners in his first season as a fully-fledged professional. In February 2020 he was entrusted by Colin Tizzard with riding former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Native River (a horse looking to repeat that success in this year’s race) in the
with me, watching and learning from them.” To the outside eye Jonjo Jr. looked to have an upbringing that could only mean one thing for him. “I didn’t know anything different. I was very lucky with the amount of jockeys riding out all the time. My pony, Highmead Chatterbox, was really difficult and it was thought that if I could ride her then many of the horses would be a lot easier! You don’t really realise how much you are subconsciously learning from them all. “I was more or less learning alongside Richie
Denman Chase Newbury in the absence of the horse’s regular partner, Richard Johnson. If he felt any pressure from the racing world, he definitely didn’t show it. He calmly, confidently and maturely got the job done.
McLernon throughout his whole apprenticeship, and at that time AP was riding lots for dad and was having loads of success. It was a great time and I know how lucky I am to have been in that position.” The last decade has seen a lot of changes at Jackdaws Castle. Jonjo Jr. is now his father’s main jockey and brother AJ assists Jonjo Sr.
If youwant to make it as a jockey you have to ride for other people
“That was definitely the biggest win of my career. I was very lucky to be asked to ride him. Dad has always encouraged me to ride for other people and I’m really grateful for all the opportunities I get.” “If you want to make it as a jockey you have to ride for other people,” adds Jonjo Sr. “You have to learn the different ways that trainers do things and listen to their advice. It is great that other trainers are giving him the opportunities to ride big winners – it’s a competitive game and it’s down to his hard work that gets him those chances.” They are separated by 44 years, but their appetite for success and passion for the sport is indistinguishable. And what does the future hold for Jonjo Jr. with the
with the training of the horses. “We don’t argue too much,” jokes Jonjo Sr. “I feel incredibly lucky to be able to say I work with both of them. It’s a special situation and we all have different views… Sometimes they’re even right!” It’s a system that is certainly blossoming. This season has already contained some big race winners, including a first victory in the Ladbrokes Trophy (formerly The Hennessy) at Newbury with Cloth Cap under Tom Scudamore, a horse many now fancy for the 2021 Randox Grand National and the recent Betfair Hurdle success at the same course with Soaring Glory, the biggest win for the father
racing world at his feet? If he can steer clear of injuries we are unquestionably witnessing a future Champion Jockey. “I know everyone says they want to be Champion Jockey, but I really do. It’s something I have been trying to work towards, but I’m also aware how hard it will be. You need a huge amount of support and the next couple of years will be about laying the foundations to put myself in the best position to achieve this.”
and son duo to date. The exciting season so far has recaptured some ambitions for the elder Jonjo. “I have always been a quietly ambitious person,” he says. “However sometimes the odds don’t come out in your favour. The last few seasons it has definitely helped having AJ assisting me. And seeing Jonjo riding winners on horses that shouldn’t win gives me a great kick.”
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