As far as the Cheltenham Festival is concerned, Jonjo O’Neill will be best remembered for riding the legendary racemare Dawn Run who, in 1986, became the first, and so far only, horse to complete the Champion Hurdle – Cheltenham Gold Cup double. However, since turning his hand to training, and recovering from Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, in the late Eighties, O’Neill has enjoyed several notable victories at the March showpiece.
For the first 15 years of his training career, O’Neill was based at Penrith, Cumbria. He sent out his first Cheltenham Festival winner, Danny Connors, in the Coral Golden Hurdle Final – now the Pertemps Network Final – in 1991 and was subsequently successful with Front Line in the National Hunt Chase in 1995 and Master Tern in the Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle in 2000. All three winners carried the famous green and gold hooped colours of his principal benefactor, John ‘J.P.’ McManus.
Indeed, in 2001, McManus purchased Jackdaws Castle, a training centre originally built by David Nicholson in Temple Guiting, Gloucestershire, just 30 minutes’ drive from Prestbury Park, and installed O’Neill as trainer. The following year, O’Neill won the National Hunt Chase again with Rith Dubh, owned by McManus, and has since won the historic steeplechase a further four times, courtesy of Sudden Shock in 2003, Native Emperor in 2004, Butler’s Cabin in 2007 and Minella Rocco in 2016.
O’Neill enjoyed his highest-profile Festival victory with Synchronised, owned by McManus and ridden by Sir Anthony McCoy, in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2012, but it is worth noting that he has also won the Stayers’ Hurdle twice, with Iris’s Gift in 2004 and More Of That in 2014, and the Pertemps Network three times, with Inching Closer in 2003, Creon in 2004 and Holywell in 2013. All told, he has saddled 26 Cheltenham Festival winners; his most successful horse, so far, at the Festival was Albertas Run, who won the Royal & Sun Alliance Chase in 2008, before recording back-to-back victories in the Ryanair Chase in 2010 and 2011.