Jonjo O’Neill junior may share the same name as his famous father, but he is determined to create his own legacy – starting by being crowned this season’s champion conditional jockey.
Although the 21-year-old has a way to go to match the achievements of his father, who was twice crowned champion jockey and has both ridden and trained the winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, he has made a bright start to a career he hopes will be equally as successful.
For this season, victory in what looks set to be a hotly-contested conditional championship would be seen as a first major mission accomplished.
He said: “It will be tough and not plain sailing, but winning the conditional title is the main aim – and I would be happy at the end of the season if I have done that, while if I get past 50 winners that would also be good.
“There are three or four that could put their names in the hat for it, but then you need competition to get better.
“The likes of Connor Brace and Ben Jones are clipping at my heels, but I hope I’ve got good ammunition and will get a few winners with dad and Colin Tizzard – although most of the others have good claims left, so it will be a very even race.”
O’Neill, who recently rode out his 3lb claim, has spent time on the sidelines this year through both injuries and bans. But there have been more ups than downs in what has been a breakthrough 12 months for one of the sport’s brightest young stars.
He added: “My year has gone quite well, even though I’ve been off for a few months with bans and a broken jaw.
“I rode my first big winner in the Lanzarote for Jennie Candlish in January; then I had my first Cheltenham winner on Early Doors in the Martin Pipe for Joseph O’Brien, and I won my first graded race on Annie Mc at Newbury for dad – which was special.
“I’ve also had my first treble and first Punchestown Festival winner – so it has in many ways been a breakthrough year, I suppose.”
To succeed at the highest level, it is important to be surrounded by the best – and while always having the expertise of his father to call upon, O’Neill junior also has a number of other weighing-room stars past and present by his side should he require any extra guidance.
He added: “Carl Llewellyn and Dominic Elsworth are my jockey coaches, and Dom is my brother-in-law, so that helps. Both are very good. If I had a problem as well I would give AP (McCoy) a ring or talk to him at the races.
“Barry Geraghty is very good to me, and Richie McLernon has been like my older brother for the past 10 years. I try to surround myself with good people that know what they are talking about and have plenty of experience, because it will only help my career.”
Despite growing up in a household where racing was part of day-to-day life, pursuing a career in the sport is something that has come later to O’Neill than some of his contemporaries.
He said: “Mum and dad never pushed us either way, because they know how hard it is. I’ve always been an adrenaline junkie, and the only kick I can get is from riding horses quickly – I wanted to be a jockey from the age of 13 or 14.
“I was pretty restless when I was 16, because Sean (Bowen) and Harry (Cobden) – who I grew up at pony club with – started getting conditional licences.
“I had to sit and suffer and watch them on television doing well and I was sat at school starting my A-levels in French, politics, business studies and sports science – but I think I was better off for it, and it has stood me in good stead in the long term.”
Being the son of such a high-profile former rider comes with an added pressure – but O’Neill sees it as an advantage in helping him reach the heights and goals he has set out.
He said: “I don’t think it puts pressure on me at all – it’s something to aim towards. I feel lucky and privileged that I have the same name as dad.
“We are very similar in a lot of ways and on the same wavelength, but I am my own man and I want to establish myself as a jockey.
“He rode 149 winners in a season. There are not many jockeys that do that now, and he did it in the 1970s when there was less racing and no Sunday racing. If I ride more winners in a season than he did then that would be a personal achievement.
“I’d say the proudest moment that I hope I have is when I pass the total number of winners he has ridden. I think I’d like to just go past that, so I’m not just known as Jonjo O’Neill’s son.”