A TALE OF TWO JONJOS
Palmers Hill gave trainer Jonjo O'Neill a Cheltenham first - a winner ridden by his son, 20-year-old Jonjo jnr - in the 23-runner Steve & Sue Ibberson Happy Retirement Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle.
The J P McManus-owned five-year-old Palmers Hill beat Unblinking by a length and a quarter at 7/1.
O'Neill snr said: "He did his job nicely, had a nice clear run all way and jumped well. A winner at Cheltenham any day is a great thing, and to have Jonjo on board was very special.
"The ground is a bit chopped up after the last couple of days, so Jonjo felt it was a bit better going around the outside. He had a run around before racing and felt that was the best place to go. I left it up to him.
"Jonjo had a bad old start to this year. He had eight months off with an injury in his back. But he seems fine again now and hopefully he gets a bit of a run at it. He is good value for 5lb."
"I don't know what we will do next with Palmers Hill - there are no plans further than today, to be honest. We thought he was a nice horse last year and it didn't materialise really. I think he was just weak and growing, so we only gave him three runs and then left him off. He's got a good, patient owner and it's paid off. He might be a nice horse with a bit of luck. He's big enough to go on and jump fences in time, so we'll look after him."
1.15pm Steve & Sue Ibberson Happy Retirement Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle 2m 5f
1 Palmers Hill (JP McManus) Jonjo O'Neill 5-11-08 Jonjo O'Neill Jr (3) 7/1
2 Unblinking (R N Bevis) Nigel Twiston-Davies 5-9-12 Jordan Nailor (8) 16/1
3 Offshore Oscar (Aidan Ryan) Eric McNamara IRE 7-9-13 Conor McNamara (10) 12/1
4 Valadom (Richard Hobson) Richard Hobson 9-10-07 Tom Broughton (10) 33/1
Non-Runner: Sword Of Fate (Other)
Distances: 1¼, 4, 2¾
Tote Win: £8.20 Places:£2.50, £3.70, £3.10, £9.10 Exacta:£178.50
9/2 Fav Ballyhome (5th)
FIRST CHELTENHAM WIN FOR CONDITIONAL JOCKEY JONJO O'NEILL JR
Today's opening race, the Steve and Sue Ibberson Happy Retirement Conditional Novices' Hurdle, will live long in the memory of 20-year-old conditional jockey Jonjo O'Neill Jr - the race provided him with his first winner at Cheltenham from his seventh ride at the course.
"It is very special to ride a winner here," said the claimer, son of trainer Jonjo O'Neill, a two-time former champion jockey who also won two Gold Cups as well as the Champion Hurdle on the legendary mare Dawn Run.
O'Neill Jr added: "It is even better to win in Mr McNamus's colours, he has been such a good supporter of the yard."
O'Neill took a wide course throughout on the 7/1 chance Palmers Hill, who is trained by his father and owned by JP McManus, and that was a deliberate ploy by the jockey who was riding his 20th career winner.
"Paddy Brennan went wide earlier this week and it worked well [the jockey rode a three-timer on Friday] and I thought it seemed a good plan.
"When I ran around this morning, even to me the ground felt better on the outer - it is just a bit dead on the inside."
Of Palmers Hill, O'Neill added: "He is a nice horse of whom we have always thought a bit of, he just a bit weak last year. He has strengthened up over the summer, we were hopeful today but it was a competitive race."
O'Neill claimed 3lb in this conditional jockeys' race, but normally has a 5lb weight allowance.
UNBLINKING EYEING FUTURE VICTORIES
Nigel Twiston-Davies' Unblinking (16/1) finished second to 7/1 shot Palmers Hill, trained by Jonjo O'Neill, in the first race on day three of The November Meeting, the Steve & Sue Ibberson Happy Retirement Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle.
Ridden by Jordan Nailor, Unblinking was vying for the lead in the home straight. However, Palmers Hill, ridden by O'Neill's son, Jonjo O'Neill Jr ran on strongly up the Cheltenham hill to score by a length and a quarter.
Nailor said: "Unblinking ran really well. I was really happy with his performance.
"He met the last hurdle a little bit wrong and we couldn't do anything about that really as that's racing I suppose.
"Hopefully, he will keep improving following this run - it was a great thrill to ride him."
Conor McNamara was equally pleased with the performance of Irish raider Offshore Oscar (12/1), who finished a further four lengths behind in third.
He commented: "Offshore Oscar's ran a cracker. We've just bumped into two well handicapped horses on the day.
"We had a good trip round and had every chance in the home straight and we're delighted with that effort.
"He is a pleasure to ride and hopefully there is more improvement in him following this effort."
JOCKEYS ON GROUND
Jonjo O'Neill Jr, partner of the length and a quarter-winner Palmers Hill, said: "I thought the ground was dead on the inside. When I walked it, I thought the ground was riding better towards the outside."
Jordan Nailor, jockey of second-placed Unblinking, commented: "Most of the track rides very well, but there are dead bits in it."
Conor McNamara, partnering third-placed Offshore Oscar, remarked: "It's quite dead in places."
Fergus Gregory, jockey of Minellaforleisure, described the ground as: "Tacky."
Kieron Edgar, partner of Aasleagh Dawn, said: "It's pretty slow out there and feels quite dead in places."
Ross Chapman, aboard Vaniteux, commented: "Good to soft."
Lorcan Murtagh, rider of Gray Day, said: "A bit dead in places."
Sam Coltherd, jockey of Hurricane Dylan, remarked: "Good ground, but dead in some spots."
Lorcan Williams, partnering The Dellercheckout, said: "On the slow side of good."
Sean Houlihan, rider of Max Forte, said: "It's just on the soft side of good."