… speaking at his Jackdaws Castle yard in Gloucestershire, said he could not be happier with the current favourite (with Betfred – official betting partner) for the Crabbie’s Grand National, Shutthefrontdoor.
He trains Shutthefrontdoor for his principal patron JP McManus, who owns Jackdaws Castle and retains AP McCoy, the record-breaking Jump jockey who is about to gain his 20th consecutive jockeys’ championship and retire.
McCoy has not decided yet whether he is riding Shutthefrontdoor in the £1-million Crabbie’s Grand National at Aintree on Saturday, 11th April, but everything points to him doing so.
Jonjo O’Neill said: “Shutthefrontdoor is in great form. I could not be happier with him. I would have liked to have got a run into him (before the Grand National) but he had an abscess on his sinus in January/February time which took a while to find out where it was.
“We did think about giving him at run at Cheltenham (at the Festival in March) but decided not to. I think he is a better horse on a flat track and secondly I did not want to give him a hard race at a time when he wasn’t as well as he is now. He is schooling well and is spot on.
“He is a clean-winded horse, who is not hard to get ready. He was ready to run and win first time out at Carlisle. He is going to Aintree fresh and well. It is all down to AP now if he is going ride him.
“You need to have a good classy horse for the National. Before, you needed a good jumper and a lot of luck, now it is a proper race. Aintree has done a great job with the track and the fences are first class.
“He likes to be up there and hopefully in the first half of the runners – that at least is my plan. If he got luck in running over the first mile, I would ride him myself.
“I don’t bet so it does not make any difference to me what price he is – I am just training the horse as though he was going for a little race at Stratford or whatever!
“Hopefully, AP is going to ride Shutthefrontdoor and the public will want to back him, looking for a fairytale story. We would all love that to happen, but it is a tall order.
“The only pressure (on me) is that Shutthefrontdoor gets there safe and sound. He is in the best form I can possibly get him. I would be more nervous if we had hiccups now but we had them in January and February. If he doesn’t win, we can blame whoever rides him!
“I’d love good ground at Aintree – he is a well-balanced horse and a great mover. He does not want it too soft. Perfect jumping ground is ideal. They make a good job of the ground at Aintree – we just don’t want the heavens to open. He is as good as any horse in the National.
“We are going there full of confidence, but you have got to be realistic – it is the National.”
Don’t Push It gave O’Neill, McManus and McCoy their first Grand National victory in 2010.
O’Neill continued: “This preparation has gone better than Don’t Push It’s. Don’t Push It was a bit of a law unto himself. Alan Berry has done all the work with this horse, like he did with Don’t Push It. We think we have got it all right and are very happy with the way things have gone.
“Shutthefrontdoor is a lovely horse – a real old pet – and loves racing, while the other horse was half-mad, a character.
“He lacks experience as a jumper but I think he is quite clever, pretty accurate and knows what he is doing. If he does take to the fences, he will run a blinder.
“I have taken him away (to racecourses) a couple of times so he is not too fresh. I don’t want him to be too fresh over the first couple of fences. I used to build three or four National fences every year but one year we didn’t and that was the year Don’t Push It won so we haven’t since. The Grand National fences are now really inviting.
“The Grand National grips you and is magic to be involved in.
“We will miss AP not riding in races next season but hopefully he is still going to be involved. We are not going to let him off the hook that easily – we may drag him in for schooling.”
O’Neill envisages a team of between eight and 12 running at Aintree during the three days of the Crabbie’s Grand National Festival (9th–11th April).
“Holywell will run in the Betfred Bowl (9th April) after a great run (fourth) in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He was beaten fair and square – the ground went against us a bit. He put a lot of effort into his jumping and did not quite get home.
“He came out of the race a bit tired for the first week to 10 days but is absolutely flying now and did a lovely bit of work yesterday morning. He came alive there last year and seems to like the track.”
Photographs by Ian Yates www.eyewhy.co.uk