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  • Jo O'Neill

May 2022 Blog

May hasn't been that quiet and relaxed. The yard stayed busy. Many horses went out to the fields on their holidays, but a lot of youngsters have been kept in work to gain an education. These were mixed in with a few summer jumpers too. Some stores came from the sales, whereas others went straight to be broken. Some ‘pointers arrived, and these were ridden away, went up the gallops before being turned out to put on condition.

A few retired, including ‘my’ Kilbrook, who I was very fond of. He’s gone to a Devonshire hunting yard, where two of last season’s retirees, I’dliketheoption and Monbeg Gold, have loved their new lives following the stag hounds.

People, too, went off on holiday, came back and disappeared off again. I had the best four days with husband Joe and terrier Daisy in a vintage VW camper van, which was rather like an oversized baked bean tin, around Cornwall. The following week, we had one day sightseeing in York and another three in Newcastle, the town that never sleeps. A very happy husband watched his beloved Newcastle United beat Arsenal, and we all celebrated along with the Toon Army.


On the 5th, Red Maple became our first winner of the season, ridden by Kevin Brogan. Kev rode a double, riding out his claim – a brilliant start to his own season. ‘Red’ is looked after by Nick Healy and is one of the horses who stays out at night, enjoying freedom, fresh air and grass. He hadn’t won since his bumper days but won well at Worcester.

The winners then came gradually, including Steady The Ship at Southwell, New Beginnings in a bumper at Worcester and the little but brave Apache Creek at Warwick.


Red Maple - winner Number 1

Photo Credit: Nigel Kirby Photography


On Thursday the 19th, accompanied by Nick and Alex Howitt, I drove three horses to Donny for the Horses In Training sales at Goffs: Maypole Class (MC), Theme Tune (Timmy) and Ashfield Paddy. We had a great day! The sales was relaxed, which meant we weren’t jogging up the horses numerous times without pause.

As Alex and Nick were shampooing the three horses, I went on a couple of errands. Firstly, I washed out and parked up the lorry, and I took the passports up to the sales office. I then found the winning ‘pointer that had being purchased the day before and had stayed overnight. I watered, hayed and threw in the huge scoop of feed I had bought up especially. The tall gelding, by Presenting, tucked in, rather unfussed at having spent an extra night there.


Maypole Class in the ring.

Photo Credit: Jamie Sharp


The stable yard was a buzz of activity, of horses being stood square, trotted up, legs felt, poked and prodded. After the auction started at 10:00, most people congregated round the ring. The noise of chatter and the last trot-ups accompanied the persistent lament of the auctioneer's escalating prices. TVs showed the forever changing red digital numbers on the boards throughout the stables.

It's exciting; different to the races but there is still tension in the air, and hope, punctuated by the knocks and bangs of the gavel.

I had a brilliantly social day. I saw people from my years in racing that I hadn't seen for ages – some in the distance, some only to quickly wish hello, but some to have a chat or a reminisce or laugh about the past. I hope everyone found their ideal horse, and was able to make a purchase.

Timmy sold up north for £20,000 pounds, Paddy went for a bargain and MC, who I led up, didn't sell after failing to meet his reserve. So, we took three and bought MC and the new one home. As a treat and in celebration of a good day, I took Nick and Alex to the ice cream van, which was situated next to the collecting ring. We were disputing waffle or wafer cones and flavours, when owner Martyn Doherty, who has Known, Bertie’s Bandana and Biowavego with us, shot over and thrust a note in my hand to cover the three ice creams.

During the four days, Martyn and partner Orsolya Carroll, had bought three so Martyn was in a chipper mood. We were delighted with our free 99s and were off before 1:30, so got home well before the end of evening stables.

On the 21st, I went to Haydock races with Verity Peers and ‘her’ Merveillo (Merve). I was especially delighted to go because Tom Marquand was riding. Yes, he is as diminitive as a dot and the green and gold colours swamped him, but he was so lovely and very chatty. He was born and bred in the Cotswolds, and very local to us he grew up in Winchcombe which is about seven miles from the yard. (I saddled up and legged up Hollie Doyle last summer – surely these are racing's finest couple? And they’re much much lighter to leg up than most jump jockeys!) Merve and Tom finished sixth so it was not a bad result.

The next day, Tom Marquand won the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh – he’s a class act.


As the number of horses stabled has diminished, the list of odd jobs has lengthened. There's pressure-washing, weeding, strimming, mowing, creosoting, painting, stocktaking… The mountain range of dirty rugs shrank marginally before ballooning again when eighteen horses went out in a single day. That kept me busy and the washing machine even busier. It spent days clanking, swilling, and swishing, spitting out sopping rugs scented with detergent.


Colleague Spotlight.

Tirana Jakupi started at Jackdaws Castle last season, in July, and had a terrific first few months, topped off by winning the Employee of the Month for April. Originally from Derbyshire, Tirana, 18, fell into racing through a love of horses and attended the Northern Horseracing College in Doncaster. She’s one of our team of yard staff, though she’d love to ride out in the future.

Tirana is a hardworking, committed colleague, who is working towards her NVQ Level 2 and has a high standard of plaiting when at the races. She loves taking photographs and videos from all angles of working with racehorses, fully documenting yard life. At home, Tirana has a beautiful blue-eyed Siamese cat, called Albana.



Did you have a horsey childhood?

No, I didn't. However, I have loved horses for as long as I can remember. My best mate had horses and I used to help with them and then I worked at a riding school. There, I did a little bit of riding. Wanting to go further, I decided I would love to work with racehorses and applied for the NHC.


How did you get into racing?

After getting a place at the NHC, I completed the twelve-week foundation Course. I came to Jonjo’s on my six-week work placement and have been here ever since.


What is your favourite horse at work?

Limetree Boy has been my favourite ever since the first day I came. He is very sweet and has a gentle character. It makes me happy that I look after him. So far, I have taken him to every race he has run in. His first ever race was at Aintree and it was an amazing experience when he came third. Also, his first win at Wetherby which was another great day – he won the BTO too.


What is your favourite racecourse?

Aintree is really amazing and the fact that the Grand National is held there, where so many famous horses and jockeys compete, is cool! Plus, there is so much history of racing there.


What is the best thing about Jonjo O’Neill Racing?

Definitely the horses, and the facilities we have for them are really good. It helps us make sure they all have the best care.


What is the worst thing about working in racing?

The odd time I have to do a job that doesn't involve being with the horses.


What's been your best day’s racing so far?

Taking Limetree Boy to Wetherby and Aintree. However, I loved taking Half The Freedom last time out to Chepstow; he did well and got the best turned out. Also, we had a winner that day, Monbeg Genius was led up by JoJo, and it was a lovely day’s racing all round.


Tirana with the winning Limetree Boy at Wetherby


What are your ambitions within racing?

To start riding out. It would be amazing and is my main aim. I also want to keep expanding my knowledge in all the different areas within racing.


Other interests:

When I'm not around the horses, I enjoy keeping active. I used to play netball and do a lot of roller skating but, to be honest, my main interest always centres around horses. It's my dream life working with them and taking them racing.

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