With 45 winners this season, Jonjo O’Neill, who has ridden out his claim, is 15 clear in the British conditional jockeys’ championship.
The in-demand rider an extra special birthday present, when he was given the pleasant news, he will partner Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Native River on his next start. Trainer Colin Tizzard has revealed O’Neill will replace the champion jockey, who is side-lined with a broken arm. Native River is in pursuit of a third victory in the Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury on February 8 – He will also ride the horse at Cheltenham if Johnson is not fit to return on time.
Twenty-two-year-old rider O’Neill junior asserted; “Without a doubt Native River would be the best horse I will have ridden so far in my career,” he said. “He is a Gold Cup winner who has won loads of good races. It doesn’t look like he is on a downward curve – it is a massive ride to pick up. There are plenty of jockeys that ride for Mr Tizzard, these are very unfortunate circumstances for Richard Johnston, but he will be back”.
He then added; “I ride out for Colin once or twice a week and school plenty. I have not sat on Native River yet. Jamie Thomas rides him every day, but I will perhaps go in on Wednesday and school him and maybe next week as well”. Dorset handler Colin Tizzard made the news public on television only minutes prior to telling O’Neill the exciting update at Fontwell on Sunday;
O’Neill added;”I kind of found out near enough the same time as anyone else did, a few minutes in the difference” joked O’Neill.
He then added “I have ridden a good few winners for his owners, Mr and Mrs Broom of Brocade Racing, in the last year or so and get on with them very well. I feel very fortunate that it was announced it was me. Native River is Dicky’s ride and if he comes back for Cheltenham, then he will ride him. He won a Gold Cup, a Welsh National and Hennessy and everything. I am thrilled to be on him for Newbury anyway.”
O’Neill Junior is already a Cheltenham Festival-winning rider having won last year’s Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle on Early Doors. Success in the Denman Chase would be his first at Graded level in his fledgling career; speaking of his chances the young rider insisted; “He would go there with a great shout. The blinkers seem to have really sharpened him up”.