In anticipation of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival we sat down with former jockey and one of the most successful racehorse trainers of all time, Jonjo O’Neill…
Q: You’ve had some stellar achievements throughout your career but what would be your favourite Festival moment?
It has to be winning the Gold Cup as a trainer with Synchronised. To be fair, as a jockey by the time you get onto them in the paddock all the work has been done. Winning on Alverton and especially on Dawn Run was brilliant but when you’ve lived with them and seen them grow, they become like your children. We’ve been lucky to have a few winners and Synchronised was special because it was so unexpected. We knew he had talent but there aren’t many who can clobber as many fences and appear to be so uninterested that end up winning. The Jockey (AP McCoy) might have had something to do with it, mind.
Q: Are there any future stars in the yard that we should keep an eye out for?
We have a whole stable full of future stars and some of them are still looking for an owner so when can you come and take a look at them? In all honesty, you never know which might turn into the next superstar. For Cheltenham, they need to be athletic and mentally strong and that’s a rare combination. Keep an eye on the horses we run through the season at Cheltenham and at the Festival in the novice races and, hopefully, one of those will train on to get near the top given all the luck you need.
Q: What do you look forward to the most over The Festival?
Having been there so many times, it holds so many great memories for me and just walking around, they’ll be plenty of people reminding me of the ones they backed and got beat and the few that win. The whole place is magic really. Having runners is the icing on the cake. Obviously meeting up with old friends and making new friends too. Its the perfect place to meet people who share my passion for this fabulous sport.
Q: Have you got any top tips on how people can make the most of their experience at The Festival?
Get there early and soak it all in. Experience The Hall of Fame, The Guinness Village and Shopping Mall. There is also a great new addition called The Orchard this year, which I cannot wait to visit. There’s nothing worse that being stuck in the traffic so get yourself organised find somewhere you can make a base and enjoy the craic. The races are only part of it. The people are amazing. There’s nothing beats standing beside a jump with a big field so long as you don’t mind some of the language you might hear from the jockeys. Or being on the rail when the horses run up to the winning line. If you’ve never been to Cheltenham you might think all the action is miles away. That is not the case. It’s a surprisingly tight track and you can really feel part of the action.
Q: Where is your favourite place to celebrate or relax after a day at The Festival?
Well if its celebrating, then I’m usually the last to leave the racecourse. Depending on my work schedule the next day, I love popping into 131 The Promenade and Crazy Eights Bar, the atmosphere is electric, or after a winner back to The Plough at Ford to celebrate with the team. The people I most want to be with when we have a winner are the owners, its often a long journey we have been on together and believe me there is nothing nicer than sharing these moments together. The yard the following morning is when it really begins to sink in. There’s a real buzz about the place. The staff have done all the hard work and I will have a chance to celebrate when it’s all over with my team.