That’s my boy - Jonjo O’Neill gets timing just right again

TIME To Get Up lived up to his name as he challenged late to grab victory in the Marston’s 61 Deep Midlands Grand National 35 years after trainer Jonjo O’Neill won the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Dawn Run.

Time To Get Up ridden by Jonjo O'Neill Jr. on their way to winning the Marston's 61 Deep Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter racecourse.

O’Neill and Dawn Run’s evocative win at Cheltenham will always be synonymous with the Sir Peter O’Sullevan’s spine-tingling ‘And the mare’s beginning to get up’ commentary.

Just as Dawn Run trailed going to the last in the 1986 Gold Cup, Time To Get Up was still more than a length behind Mighty Thunder at the 24th and final fence in the marathon contest at Uttoxeter.

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But jockey Jonjo O’Neill junior, riding for his father’s yard and owner JP McManus, had timed his telling challenge to perfection as the eight-year-old did get up on the run-in for a length success.

Time To Get Up ridden by Jonjo O'Neill Jr. on their way to winning the Marston's 61 Deep Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter racecourse.

The winning rider said: “He’s a huge horse. He was obviously in the Kim Muir, but we just thought a big, flat, galloping track would suit him. He’s a pleasure to ride. “We’re delighted, this wasn’t necessarily the plan, but he won last time and we just thought, as he’d gone up a bit in the weights, that it looked a nice target for him.

“He’s a gorgeous horse and he had some nice hurdle form back in the day, so he was entitled to take his chance.”

O’Neill senior admitted he was not certain his runner would see out the four-mile-two-furlong distance that he won with the McManus-owned Synchronised in 2010 before landing the Gold Cup two years later.

He said: “We weren’t sure whether he’d stay, but you don’t know until you try it. The ground was grand, everything was grand – it all came together. You don’t want it bog-deep when you’re going a long way and trying to get four miles, but everything went according to plan.”

O’Neill trains the favourite for this year’s Randox Grand National in Cloth Cap, and Aintree could be a consideration for this horse next year.

“I would think about the National, maybe next year. He’s a good old jumper and now we know he gets the trip. Whether he’ll have the pace for the National I don’t know, the National now is a fairly pacey race. We’ll see how we go. That was the plan, and it all sounds so easy when it works out.”

O’Neill was particularly thrilled to give his son a big-race winner. He said: “It’s great, really. That’s what you dream of, isn’t it? When it all goes according to plan it’s even better.”

As for Time To Get Up, he ventured: “He’s a lovely looking horse and a grand character – he’s great to do anything with. He jumps very well – and now we know he stays too, so we’re delighted”

Time To Get Up is lightly-raced, but one previous performance on his CV already stood out when an 11-length second to dual Cheltenham Festival winner Monkfish in a maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse in December, 2019, on his last start before joining O’Neill from Joseph O’Brien’s yard.

O’Neill said: “The Monkfish form isn’t too bad! I don’t know how he got that close to him, but he did. He’s had leg trouble but has done the job today, and he’s the type of horse that gradually progresses. We’re very happy with him, and hopefully he might be a National horse down the road. He’s in the Irish National, but that might come too soon. He’s one to look forward to next year.”

O’Neill is due to be strongly represented at Aintree next month by Cloth Cap, whose preparation continues to go well. He said: “I might take him to Lambourn for a school over the National fences, but he’s in good order and if we can keep him that way for the next couple of weeks that will do me. It’s a great time for the yard.”

O’Neill was one of just four British trainers to saddle a winner at last week’s Cheltenham Festival as Irish runners dominated jump racing’s showpiece.

Now calls are growing for a root and branch review of National Hunt racing in this country. They include Dan Skelton, whose Nube Negra just failed to catch Put The Kettle On in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

He said: “They’re just better at the moment – it’s as simple as that. There is time now for a good look at everything. The whole British system needs a good look, and we need to come out with a plan to make sure we can compete going forward.

“We have to become better competitors – especially at that meeting – and this was the catalyst for it. I think you’ll see big changes because of it.”

Harry Fry, who also also drew a Festival blank, added: “We’ve got big owners investing in Irish racing, because there is some sort of return, and there isn’t here. It’s hard to justify to owners when you’re running around for £3,000 in a race.

“I won the Grade One Tolworth (at Sandown), and I didn’t even win £20,000 for winning a Grade One.”

Former Grade One-winning hurdler Sam Spinner has been retired by Leyburn trainer Jedd O’Keeffe after being pulled up in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

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