O’Neill talks up Gold Cup hopes of Holywell

DESPITE being beaten at Catterick, Jonjo O’Neill believes there is no reason why stable star Holywell cannot emulate Synchronised and win the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Trainer Jonjo O'Neill.
Trainer Jonjo O'Neill.

Synchronised won the blue riband race in 2012 under a memorable AP McCoy ride before losing his life in the following month’s Grand National.

However, O’Neill, this season’s leading National Hunt trainer, believes the two horses share a number of traits – even though Holywell was beaten by a head in a beginners’ chase at the North Yorkshire venue in December last year before returning to Catterick to win the Richmond Beginners’ Chase in January.

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Holywell has won at the last two Cheltenham Festivals – success in the Pertemps Final in 2013 was followed by victory in this year’s Baylis & Harding Affordable Luxury Handicap Chase.

On these two occasions, Holywell was ridden by McCoy’s unsung understudy Richie McLernon, but McCoy was back in this plate when steeplechasing’s rising star won a Grade One novice chase in eyecatching style at Aintree in April.

“He’s summered brilliantly and he’s in great form,” said O’Neill, who was in the saddle when Dawn Run became the first and only mare to win the Gold Cup in 1986.

“He’ll probably start off at Carlisle in the Colin Parker (November 2). He’s not the biggest in the world and Carlisle is a grand jumping track. Saying that, we went there last year thinking the same thing and he slipped into the second and didn’t want to know after that.

“He’s a little bit of a character really. I think he’s a better horse in the Spring so what we do up to Christmas might depend on how he gets on at Carlisle.

“He’s a funny little devil and was the same over hurdles – he takes a while to get going. He finished second a few times over hurdles and kept going up the weights and I was thinking ‘how am I going to win with him?’.

“But he’s tough, and when he’s really hard fit in the Spring he’s a really tough nut to crack. I’m hoping he’ll do the same in the Spring this year and we can go for the Gold Cup.

“He surprised me big time at Aintree. He was in great form going there and put up a brilliant performance, you can’t knock it. I’m just hoping that form stands up and he is a Gold Cup horse.

“He stays, he jumps pretty well when he’s on fire, but his greatest asset is he stays well. When he sees that hill he’s like a little tiger, he reminds me a little bit of Synchronised, when he runs at Cheltenham.”