Jonjo ONeill as a Jockey

Jonjo O’Neill – as a Jockey

Jonjo O’Neill was born on April 13th 1952 in County Cork, Ireland. His boyhood ambition was to become a jockey and after leaving school he began an apprenticeship with Michael Connolly. In 1970 he rode his first winner when Lana dead heated at the Curragh. Three years later, Jonjo moved to England and from then on his career burgeoned. In 1977/78, he broke the record for most winners in a season. His tally of one hundred and forty nine beat the previous record (held by former champion and one of Jonjo’s closest friends, Ron Barry) by twenty four. The following season, he claimed the Jockeys’ Championship for a second successive time.

Jonjo on Alverton
Jonjo receiving the Cheltenham Gold Cup from the Queen Mother in 1986

Over the course of his career, Jonjo sustained many injuries, some of them serious and ensuring lengthy spells on the sidelines. His great rival and friend, John Francome, once described Jonjo’s achievements in winning two Champion Jockeys’ titles whilst based in the far north of England as “the equivalent of winning five Olympic Gold Medals”.

During his career, Jonjo was associated with many fine horses, the best known being Night Nurse, Sea Pigeon and Dawn Run. In particular, he excelled on the last two-named. Dawn Run remains the only horse to win the Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival, whilst Sea Pigeon won numerous good races on the Flat and over jumps, including the Champion Hurdle twice, the first occasion in 1980 when partnered by Jonjo.

Other fine horses that Jonjo rode include Royal Vulcan, Ekbalco, Little Owl, Peterhof and Alverton. Alverton gave Jonjo his first win in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March 1979. Sadly, a month later, he was still cantering when falling fatally in the Grand National.

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