Our columnist on a breakthrough win for Jonjo O’Neill junior and Andy Murray's emotional Australian Open press conference.
JONJO JNR A CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK
Big Time Dancer’s fluent win in the Lanzarote at Kempton on Saturday was a notable one for Jennie Candlish, the talented Staffordshire trainer, but it was a huge breakthrough for his young conditional jockey partner.
Of course being Jonjo O’Neill junior means that he is obviously going to get more attention than most young claimers but, given that his first winner was back in July of 2015, junior’s progress has been steady rather than spectacular.
However, you just get the impression though that this big win, coupled with a first at Cheltenham on Palmers Hill in November (for his father and in the JP McManus colours) is going to speed things up a bit.
Not that any of this looked likely at the start of last year.
Jonjo explained: "I got a few bad falls in the early spring but I broke my L5 vertebrae in March as I was trotting in the indoor school – it was very strange. I had eight months off and returned in October. It was a long eight months!
“Rehab was fantastic. It was all rehab-based as there was no surgery involved. I had to get the nutrition right and feed me the supplements, the vitamins and the calcium I was lacking."
Although some might have been worried about his riding future, young Jonjo himself wasn’t in the least.
"I was always confident. It was just trying to get a grip on how to deal with it. It wasn’t an impact fall – more to do with my body. I knew I had to be patient."
Jonjo was trying the impossible to do 9-7 last season and his body weight was fluctuating wildly. “So I upped my weight – 10-7 is comfortable and I can do lighter with a bit of notice, although 10-3 would be as light as I would go. But now I feel strong and am not having to sweat or waste as hard. It would not have been sustainable before and this has made a big difference to my mindset.”
Riding racehorses is what young Jonjo always wanted to do, having graduated from the ever-influential pony racing circuit. “I had never thought about anything else. Mum (Jacqui) and Dad were pushing me away from it because they know how hard it is, but it just made me feel more determined.”
Palmers Hill didn’t do him any harm. “To have a winner at the November meeting, especially in JP’s colours was unbelievable and it was great that they were all there.”
He added: “This season I want to go as far as I can in the conditionals race but I am a bit behind because I only started at the end of October.“
When his father arrived on the British jumping scene in the 1970s, he was a force of nature – an all action rider who won two titles as well as Champion Hurdles and Gold Cups and, at the time, set what looked an uncatchable record of 149 winners in a season.
Indeed it was - until Messrs Scudamore and Pipe got together.
There is more than a touch of the old man in Jonjo jnr when he gets down to riding a finish but that was not needed on Saturday and indeed he rode a super cool and most stylish race to land the big pot.
No doubt agent Dave Roberts’s phone will be getting a hammering over the next few months.
LADY ROTHSCHILD REMEMBERED
The death of the leading owner-breeder Lady Rothschild this week at the age of 83 reminded us all of the days of her brilliant colt Nathaniel, named after her son, who was a brilliant racehorse but just happened to be born in the same year as Frankel.
I recall the day when Nathaniel won the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown and, working for C4 Racing that sunny afternoon, I was entrusted with talking to her Ladyship in the winner’s enclosure.
She was clearly delighted, her son was there, and I was readying myself for a terrific interview. However, not knowing her at all, she was very shy, most reluctant to say much and was clearly trying to do anything to hide and make me go away.
I turned to her son who was an equally reluctant interviewee so, sadly, it wasn’t my finest piece of television!
It was a real shame that I never got the chance to talk to Lady Rothschild again as everybody says what a charming person she was, one who loved her horses and was armed with an incredible knowledge.
Although petite in stature, Lady Serena Rothschild certainly left her mark on our sport, breeding a whole host of good horses from her Waddesdon Stud, which also included Great Heavens (Nathaniel’s sister), Mince, Thistle Bird, Pounced and Baron Ferdinand.
It must have given her huge pleasure seeing Nathaniel beating Frankel to a first Classic winner (Enable, no less) and continue to give his old rival more than a run for his money from the breeding sheds.
ANDY MURRAY IS GREAT BUT, PLEASE, NO TEARS!
I love the Andy Murray story – from humble beginnings in Dunblane right up to becoming the world number one and the first Briton since Fred Perry to win Wimbledon.
And he won the thing again, too, along with two Olympic Gold Medals, a US Open, countless other titles and carrying his team to Davis Cup glory along the way. Fabulous.
Yes, it is undeniably sad that his brilliant career – forged in arguably tennis’s greatest era against Federer, Nadal and Djokovic – may be coming to a premature end at the age of 31 because of his troublesome hip.
For me, he is Britain’s greatest sportsman - by a country mile. But, boy, did I not like the tears at the press conference in Melbourne the other day. It really was a “Woe is me” thing and given that the Scot would have been contemplating such a scenario for some time, I didn’t really get it.
Come on Andy, we know you are tough – you showed that yet again on court a day or two later – you are also a Knight of the Realm, extremely rich and much admired.
There really isn’t much to cry about there.
DERBY OUTCLASSED BY LEEDS
For the second time this season, I had to sit back and watch my team get totally outplayed by a rampant Leeds United side. The 2-0 scoreline at Elland Road last week was the least the home side deserved and if they carry on like that, they will be back in the Premier League.
The Rams need to regroup now and I have every faith in Frank Lampard who handled the “spygate” story with his usual class.
Spying on a team’s training sessions is nothing new but surely there must be something more sophisticated to it than relying on a bloke stumbling around in the bushes with a pair of binoculars.
I am surprised we have not heard more about the use of drones. Indeed, I recall a story about Derby’s very own chairman, Mel Morris, using the technology to watch his own team during training. (It didn’t go down too well with Nigel Pearson, the manager at the time).
FUNNY GOINGS ON AT THE ARSENAL
An insipid performance against West Ham United was rather worrying for Arsenal fans. It certainly wasn’t the first in recent matches, either.
The exclusion of Mesut Ozil from the match day squad was hard to understand – they so needed him if the highlights were a true reflection – and yet Unai Emery seems to put up a smokescreen when it comes to talking about the German playmaker, who he regards, oddly, as “just another player”.
Clearly there is something going on there. It is also a mystery as to why they are letting go of Aaron Ramsey, at 28 and at the height of his powers. What will he cost to replace?
And now, further evidence that all is not well comes with the news of the highly regarded talent spotter Sven Mislintat about to head to the exit. I bet he has become frustrated at the lack of money to spend but there is more than a hint of a clash of personalities, too.
It is not a happy ship at Arsenal and it could get even worse as their season will effectively be over if they lose to Chelsea on Sunday.