More Of That will miss Newbury tomorrow and now looks set to go straight to The Festival in his attempt to win the RSA Chase.
His lack of experience over the larger obstacles has to be a concern. Only two of the last 20 RSA winners have arrived at Cheltenham with just two outings over fences. Don Poli overcame such concerns last year in stunning fashion, and Florida Pearl did the same back in 1998.
That is the challenge facing Jonjo’s fella, though he was just as inexperienced when winning the World Hurdle in 2014. It’s interesting that he was given a similar three month break leading up to that famous victory. Though now an eight-year-old, he still has very few miles on the clock with just eight outings under rules. His record is hugely impressive, with only the one career defeat and a perfect four from four at Prestbury Park.
Frank Berry, the racing manager to owner JP McManus yesterday said: “He won't be running on Saturday because of the ground. We were hoping it would dry up a bit, but it's still soft, heavy in places on the chase track. He's in great form and Jonjo is very happy with him.”
He’s been impressive in his two chase victories this winter, though looks likely to go off second favourite in March with No More Heroes at the head of the market. The Gigginstown owned seven-year-old looks a classy chaser and the pair could provide us with one of the races of the Festival.
Jonjo O’Neill has had many a great day at Cheltenham over the years, both as a jockey and trainer. He famously took the Gold Cup aboard Ireland’s favourite mare Dawn Run, and in 2012 trained Synchronised to win the race when many so called experts considered him to be merely a decent handicapper.
After his now renowned quiet spell during a very wet winter, Jonjo is famed for having his team finely tuned as March approaches. More Of That, Holywell, Taquin Du Seuil, Albertas Run and of course Synchronised, are all part of the rich recent history at Jackdaws Castle. He’ll be hoping to build some momentum as the four day spectacular approaches.
He has several promising hurdlers set to take their chance in the Betfair Hurdle tomorrow at Newbury. Mad Jack Mytton, Matorico and Champagne At Tara are all capable of going well having run consistently throughout the winter. The former has only twice been out of the first three in 10 career starts, whilst Matorico was fourth in a competitive handicap at Kempton last time and prior to that ran the fast improving Duke Des Champs close at Market Rasen. Any or all could then head to Cheltenham as lively outsiders for the Coral, the County or the Martin Pipe handicap hurdles.
Jonjo is likely to saddle Compadre in Newbury’s closing bumper. Owned by Magnier, Smith and Tabor, this son of Yeats was very impressive on debut at Bangor back in November. Tomorrow’s race looks a real cracker with several high-profile contenders. A prominent finish should book his place for a trip to Cheltenham to take in the Champion Bumper.
At Warwick there’s a chance that The Saint James may take up his entry in the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase. Now I’m not expecting him to get the better of L’Ami Serge, or in all likelihood get that close. I am however of the opinion that this horse has a bright future over fences.
He almost got the better of Vyta Du Roc back in December, and was putting in a promising performance behind Ar Mad over Christmas at Kempton before uprooting the eighth fence. He’s bred for the larger obstacles and is still only a five-year-old with the prospect of a huge amount of improvement to come. He came third in the Fred Winter at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, and is currently a huge price for the JLT.
One race at The Festival that Jonjo looks sure to target is the four mile National Hunt Chase. He has several contenders in a race that has brought him a great deal of success in the past. Upswing ran a belter at Cheltenham back in November behind Sausalito Sunrise, before struggling to cope with conditions in the Welsh National. He’s capable of a huge performance in March.
Jonjo may also run Spookydooky and Another Hero; both strong stayers though both relatively inexperienced over fences. The latter won at Ludlow last week, whilst the former chased home Seventh Sky in the Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase. He had the Peter Marsh winner, Cloudy Too, behind him on that occasion.
There’s little doubt that O’Neill’s outstanding staying chaser is Holywell. Fourth in last year’s Gold Cup, the nine-year-old is never at his best in deep winter ground. He may still be aimed at Cheltenham’s Blue Riband, however, his handicap mark continues to tumble, and this could tempt connections into a crack at the opening day three mile handicap chase. He won it in 2014 and the addition of a claimer on his back would surely give him every chance of repeating that success.
Finally I have to mention Minella Rocco; a horse that has proved incredibly disappointing since his switch to fences. Touted as a potential stable star as the season began, he was pulled up at Cheltenham in December after thumping the fourth fence, and then finished tailed off behind Seeyouatmidnight after another abstract jumping display. His intended Festival target is now unknown but he remains a talented horse with huge potential.
More Of That remains the flag-bearer as O’Neill’s team ‘warm-up’ for March. However, it would come as no surprise should Jonjo cause a few upsets during Festival week, and head back to Jackdaws Castle with a huge smile on his face.