Jonjo O’Neill confident Johns Spirit primed for big run

Trainer says last year’s Paddy Power Gold Cup winner in good shape to defend crown

Richie McLernon guides Johns Spirit over the last to win The Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham last November. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty

Richie McLernon guides Johns Spirit over the last to win The Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham last November. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty

 

Tony McCoy should have taken a break from race-riding even before his announcement last week that he would rest for a fortnight, according to the trainer Jonjo O’Neill, a frequent employer of McCoy and a former champion jump jockey himself.

O’Neill also offered a vivid description of what happened when the younger man was stood down at Wetherby last month, when a racecourse doctor decided he was not fit to ride again that afternoon.

McCoy had just ridden a winner on Goodwood Mirage but popped out a collarbone in so doing, aggravating injuries he had sustained in a fall the week before. Even so, he might have tried to take three more rides that day if it was left to himself.

“He couldn’t get his colours on,” O’Neill recalled yesterday. “That was the only thing that stopped him, really. He went in to get the colours on for the next race and he just couldn’t get them on. I think the doctor walked in and said, ‘Hello’.”

McCoy was passed fit a few days later but has not looked at his powerful best since then and finally put his hands up last Thursday, conceding he would be out of action until at least the end of next week. O’Neill, who reported the rider has gone abroad to recuperate in warmer climes, suggested it would be a mistake for McCoy to rush himself back into action for the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury a fortnight on Saturday.

“He’s very sore, very sore. I wish he’d given up a week or two earlier, to be honest, because you could see he was very sore but it’s easy for us all to give advice. If he wasn’t like that, he wouldn’t be who he is today, so you’ve got to accept that.”

O’Neill was speaking during a media morning at his stables to promote Saturday’s Paddy Power Gold Cup in which he will run Johns Spirit, a 10-1 shot to repeat his victory of last year.

“He’s more settled this year and I think he’s grown up a lot. He’s a much happier horse. He was always plagued with sore shins all his life and we fired him and done all sorts with him but he was still a bit light of bone. But that’s seemed to settle down this time, touch wood. He seems in grand form.”

Johns Spirit bids to join a band of only two horses to have completed back-to-back victories in the Paddy Power. O’Neill’s charge is rated 17lb higher than he was when defeating Colour Squadron by three-quarters of a length 12 months ago in the hands of Richie McLernon, but showed he was still on the upgrade when making a successful seasonal reappearance at Cheltenham last month. Guardian Service

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