Jonjo O’Neill has enjoyed plenty of big race glory over the years with owner Gay Smith - something which he hopes will now continue with Springwell Bay who booked an immediate step up in class after making a winning return in the Paddy Power Intermediate Handicap Hurdle.
The Jackdaws Castle Stables handler believes the Kayf Tara gelding has the potential to make up into a candidate for Jump racing’s Olympics in March following his comeback victory off top-weight in the two miles and five furlongs prize under his son Jonjo O’Neill junior.
And while the six year old has a way to go to emulate the likes of Black Jack Ketchum, who carried Smith’s colours to Grade One glory at the Festival in 2006 in what is now known as the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, O’Neill believes Springwell Bay is firmly on the right path.
Pitched into Grade One company on his final start at Aintree last season in the Turners Mersey Novices’ Hurdle the 85-40 favourite made the most of a drop back into handicap action on his comeback when prevailing by a length and a quarter.
O’Neill said: “He travelled well. He was a bit free early on, then he settled in well and jumped well. He did everything sweetly. You would be very pleased with the run.
“I was a bit worried with him having plenty of weight on that he might get swallowed up, but he is a game horse and he keeps galloping.
“We will go back and have a look at the calendar and see what there is. There are no plans at the moment. He needed to do that today to be that type of horse (Grade One).”
While O’Neill intends to let the dust settle before making a firm plan, an outing in the Grade Two Relkeel Hurdle back at the track on New Year’s Day could be an option on route to a possible tilt at the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at The Festival in March.
O’Neill added: “Those are the kind of races you would have to be looking at (the Relkeel Hurdle). I wasn’t really coming with plenty of confidence because he had 12 stone and it was his first run. He was grand. I liked what I saw.
“We have been very lucky with the owner and let’s hope he is another Black Jack Ketchum or better. If he is as good as him that will do, if he is better than him I don’t know about that. We will let the horse do the talking. That was a nice starting point and we have a nice horse to go to war with.
“I wouldn’t be frightened of doing that (going up to three miles). That would be my dream plan to get him to the Stayers’ Hurdle.”
What Baby Kate lacks in size she more than makes up in heart after maintaining her unbeaten record in fine fashion when securing some valuable black type in the concluding Karndean Designflooring Mares’ Open National Hunt Flat Race.
The diminutive four-year-old, who is the first foal of Grade One winner Augusta Kate, enhanced the fine record enjoyed by trainer Willie Mullins at the track when backing up her debut win at Ballinrobe in August after powering up the hill under Brian Hayes to score by four and a quarter lengths in the Listed event,
Patrick Mullins, son and assistant trainer, said of the 7-2 winner: “She has a superb pedigree. She is out of Augusta Kate, who is out of Feathard Lady, so it is a real fillies’ pedigree.
“We were lucky to lease her off Kevin Doyle. Jamie Codd broke her in and pre- trained her. The lads (owners the Gorm Agus Ban Syndicate) are a group of local lads (from back home) and they are living the dream.
“She didn’t win impressively at Ballinrobe, but the penny only dropped late with her and this was a black type race. It was either come here or go to Navan and we thought the ground might be nicer here.
“She is one of the smallest horses in the yard. She is tiny, but strong and has the ability. With the pedigree she had we were hopeful, and she looks incredibly like her mother.
“For Kevin, who owns her, and leased her to us, to get black type is fantastic with that pedigree and we will look at the black type bumpers in the spring.
“She will get a little break now as she is only four. We will probably go to the Dublin Racing Festival and see where we are after that.”