O'Neill narrowing down Festival options
Only twice since the year 2000 has Jonjo O'Neill failed to manage to get on the scoresheet at the Cheltenham Festival, but the trainer was downplaying his chances of further success when visited by the media early on Thursday morning.
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The Jackdaw's Castle trainer has over 30 entries, but flexible options in a number of the handicaps and reckons he could have as few as a dozen runners at the Festival.
However there remain a couple of potential starring acts, who the trainer has high hopes for, including leading JLT Novice Chase fancy Taquin Du Seuil.
He said: "He will get a proper gallop in the JLT. Obviously, there is not much between Oscar Whisky and Taquin Du Seuil. Oscar would have more pace but Taquin is a good horse and, as long as the ground does not dry out too much, he will run well. He is best on soft ground, though I will run him on good ground.
"I know he likes a good pace in his races and I could not have him in better shape - he is in really good form.
"I am very happy with my fellow and, last time, there was not much between him and Oscar (three quarters of a length) at Cheltenham and they were some 15 lengths ahead of the third.
"He jumps well, he travels well and he does everything well. His run at The Festival last year was not his form but he has run well at Cheltenham over fences since so I don't think it was the course."
The trainer says a final decision is still to be reached over the participation of More Of That in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, but interestingly said that owner JP McManus's first-choice jockey AP McCoy was likely to ride the horse in work in the next few days.
"I think we'll know more after that," he said. "It could well be that he runs and so does At Fishers Cross and AP might decide to ride At Fishers Cross - if that's the case then Richie [McLernon] will ride More Of That. I hope AP rides ours but if Richie's on board, that wouldn't worry me at all as he knows the horse well and won on him first time out.
"He is in good shape and it looks like he will stay the three miles. He won at Haydock because he stayed. Do I have a doubt in my mind? Well, I think he will stay, though going to Cheltenham for The Festival is a hard thing to do - they don't hang around and the finish is up a hill. We don't really know.
"More Of That is a good traveller in his races but it makes me nervous that he has not raced over three miles before - it is going into the unknown. He is a fair horse but how strong is his form?"
Of his runners in the handicaps, O'Neill singled out Goodwood Mirage as an interesting contender for the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle.
Bought to win the JCB Triumph Hurdle for Lady Bamford, whose husband is chairman of the race sponsors, things have not gone to plan for the colt this season, but O'Neill believes the situation is far from irretrievable after he caught the eye when finishing behind Activial at Kempton last weekend.
"So long as I have a winner, I don't give monkey's which horse in which race it is," said O'Neill. "If Goodwood Mirage acts on the track, he will run a cracker. I am worried about him coming down the hill because he has a floating chip in his joint - some days it is grand, other days it is not.
"I thought he ran well on Saturday. He runs very free early on. He is not the easiest but he stays well. I would have preferred to go for the Triumph Hurdle but on what he's done so far, you'd have to say he is not good enough for that.
"I haven't given up on him though. He could still be a Champion Hurdle horse next year, because he's got speed and stamina. I want to castrate him in the summer and that could be the making of him."