There are high public expectations of former champion jockey turned trainer Jonjo O'Neill. The never-say-die attitude as a rider that inspired a generation of riders and won the affection of punters of every age and creed has been successfully applied to the altogether different process of training racehorses, at Jackdaws Castle, the purpose - built training centre at Ford, 10 miles north-east of Cheltenham.
Jonjo O'Neill and Cheltenham are still two sets of words that gel together like magnets since those heady days of riding victories like Sea Pigeon in the Champion Hurdle and Dawn Run in the Gold Cup of 1986. So when the opportnity came to take on the training centre at Jackdaws, created by Colin Smith of Charter Party fame, and subsequently bought by J P McManus, the lure of being less than 30 minutes drive from the spiritual home of the sport was inescapable.
Marrying into a Gloucestershire family, with a ceremony at the racecourse, and two sons brought up in the county, have weaned very little of the Irish attributes that add so much charm and passion to Jonjo's character. That both Irish and Gloucestershire roots are now integral to the training set up is testament to a close-knit family operation that also includes nephew John O'Neill. Jonjo Jnr, now among the senior ranks of jockeys in the UK, and 22 year old AJ, assistant to his father, support the mother hen, Jacqui whilst Jonjo's innate horse sense keeps the operation moving forward.
This is a training business that is primarily focused on the upper echelons of the Jumps game, but the odd success in big handicaps on the Flat is a reminder that dual - purpose versatility is not restricted to previous members of the Jackdaws Castle racing club, like Alan King. But unlike King, the O'Neill strategy has always been to continue to run Jumps horses throughout the year at whatever level fits the ability of the horse.
To that end, it's been both a good summer, and an especially good week. 22 winners from 125 runners to date records a highly respectable 18% strike rate, a further 29 of which have earned place money. But Jonjo's reputation for unearthing and improving horses in the sport's top handicaps is peerless, and last season showed him at his very best. Cloth Cap, Sky Pirate and Soaring Glory represent the peak of no less than 50 individual winners from the stable.
Pens Man, 1/2l winner of a conditionals' handicap chase at Warwick on Tuesday under Kevin Brogan, and handicap hurdlers Pajero at Worcester on Friday and An Tailleur At Warwick last Monday make the week's tally 3 and with damper conditions to come, it's reasonable to expect the flow to increase.
With £135,000 in prize money under their belt, the Jackdaws team are not yet tilting at the top of the Trainers' table, but it would take a brave man not to include them in candidates for the Championship race at the back end of the winter.
Fixture 2021 Cancelled
Look out for 2022 dates later in the summer
6m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)