Sea Pigeon

Sea Pigeon

For many jumping fans, the ‘seventies are still remembered as the “golden age” of hurdling, such was the strength in depth of those at the top of the tree at that time.

A handful of hurdlers became household names, notably Monksfield, Birds Nest, Night Nurse, Dramatist, Golden Cygnet and Sea Pigeon.

Over a number of years, Jonjo partnered Sea Pigeon to several big-race wins, on the Flat and over hurdles.

Jonjo Oneill on Sea Pigeon
Jonjo Oneill riding Sea Pigeon to victory

Sea Pigeon was an American-bred horse, sired by the Derby winner Sea Bird II. Trained initially by Jeremy Tree in Wiltshire, for whom he finished seventh in the Derby, overall he had something of a disappointing profile and, at the end of 1973, was gelded and sold to Pat Muldoon, who sent him to be trained in the North of England.

Sea Pigeon joined Gordon Richards in Cumbria before his owner moved him to Peter Easterby’s stable in East Yorkshire. Under Easterby’s guidance he developed into a top-class hurdler and his career on the Flat was also restarted to great effect.

In full flight and in top-form, Sea Pigeon was a spectacular racehorse, blessed with a brilliant turn of speed. Jonjo excelled on him. In 1980, the pair combined to win the Champion Hurdle in hugely impressive style, but perhaps their most memorable triumph came in the Ebor Handicap at York a year earlier.

The Ebor is one of Europe’s most prestigious and valuable handicaps. Sea Pigeon had to carry top weight of ten stone. Despite Jonjo easing off a fraction earlier than many thought prudent, the pair held off Donegal Prince, an improving and lightly weighted three-year-old, by the narrowest of margins.

Jonjo still remembers the drama “I rode him as I usually did over hurdles, coming with a late run, but near the line, pretty certain that we’d won, I dropped my hands, eased off slightly and everyone thought we’d been beaten. We had to wait four minutes for the photo to be developed and in the end, it was obviously closer than I imagined. All I can say is when it was finally announced first number one…. I went phew!”

In 1981, when Jonjo was sidelined due to injury, Sea Pigeon landed a second Champion Hurdle, partnered by Jonjo’s friend and rival John Francome. All told, his career totalled eighty five races over jumps and on the Flat, of which he won thirty seven.

Jonjo summed up his qualities as follows “Sea Pigeon knew more about racing than anyone, and he certainly knew when he had won! He had lots of speed and could make you look fantastic or stupid, because if you hit the front too soon on him, he’d stop. Even so, he became a real favourite of mine and he was definitely one of the best loved horses in training – the public really took him to their hearts.”

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