Racing is very much a family sport and there are many people who have sons and daughters following in their footsteps. On Saturday, 12 January, the latest big story hit the headlines when Jonjo O’Neill Jnr won the prestigious and highly-competitive Lanzorote Hurdle on Big Time Dancer at Kempton.
His father, Jonjo Snr, was one of the best jockeys around in his day; I won’t forget his rides on so many great horses such as Dawn Run and Sea Pigeon. Now his son has taken over the mantle and is certainly a jockey to follow for the future. Father and son have the same charm and smile, which hides a steely grit to succeed.
A former Cheltenham College student, Jonjo Jnr was not allowed to ride in races until he was ready. He started in pony racing, which has proved a good grounding for not only this young man but also many other jockeys, who have arrived at the professional ranks via the same route.
Approximately 150 jockeys holding pro-jockey licences today started their “careers” in pony racing, including brothers Sean and James Bowen, Harry Cobden, Bryony Frost, Sam Twiston-Davies, Bridget Andrews, Harry Bannister, Tom Bellamy and Flat jockey Tom Marquand — the list is endless. There is much in the news about the shortage of racing staff, but thankfully, because of pony racing, there is no shortage of young jockeys.
Steeped in history
Racegoers at Warwick were rewarded with some brilliant sport on Saturday, but unseasonably dry conditions meant less runners in some of the races. However, the quality was still great.
The Henry Oliver-trained Generous Day won the Edward Courage Cup, the second race on the card. Now, the name of this race probably meant little to many racegoers at Warwick, but Edward was my uncle and one of racing’s true greats.
Edward was struck down with polio in his 20s and was then wheelchair-bound. However, that was not going to stop him, and his involvement in National Hunt racing has left a lasting legacy in the sport.
He was a founding member of the Injured Jockeys Fund, a breeder and permit trainer of a wonderful line of horses, who almost dominated the early 60s and 70s. His famous breeding programme, which started with a mare called Drumrora, produced great horses like Tiberetta, who went on to be the dam of Spanish Steps.
The legendary Spanish Steps won the 1968 Tote Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, the 1969 Hennessey Gold Cup carrying 11st 8lb, was second in a King George and placed in Cheltenham Gold Cups.
He was fourth — carrying 11st 13lb and giving Red Rum 22 pounds — in the 1973 Grand National, finishing behind Red Rum, Crisp and L’Escargot. It was possibly the greatest race ever run, with the first four all beating Golden Miller’s then course record. In 1974, he was fourth once again, carrying 11st 9lb, behind Red Rum and L’Escargot — a year later, he went one better, and was third to L’Escargot and Red Rum.
Edward’s other great horse was Royal Relief, who won the Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival twice and ran in the race a staggering eight times.
It proves how steeped in history National Hunt racing is — it holds so many special memories and Saturday at Warwick showed the new and the old in a great light.
Ref Horse & Hound; 17 January 2019