Racing: O'Neill's Pickett ready to strike

O'Neill has an above-average overall strike-rate of 24 per cent and an extraordinary one of 28 per cent with two-year-olds. At Newmarket on Friday night Under My Thumb became his 16th juvenile winner of the season, from a team of just 40. He has had more success this term than in four previous seasons with a licence put together. And on Tuesday, in the Molecomb Stakes, it will be time to step into the spotlight.

"We've put together a lovely bunch of horses," said O'Neill, "but we've been taking little steps.

"We missed Royal Ascot, intentionally. They'd won their maidens, but they weren't quite ready for the big stage. But now, their time has come. This week will be our first visit to a meeting like this with live chances and, without being cocky, that's what they are. We wouldn't be taking them if they weren't."

O'Neill is not employing the first person plural in the royal sense, and the pronoun's usage gives a clue to why his career has skyrocketed. The talent has clearly always been there; now he has been given the opportunity to demonstrate it, through his association with the owner John Fretwell, at whose Averham Park stables, near Southwell, he has been based since late last year.

Fretwell, no bad judge seemingly, picked him out from a list of 72 applicants for the job on his private estate.

Before taking out a licence in Newmarket, O'Neill was an assistant to John Gosden and Sir Mark Prescott, as well as learning his trade in France and America. "The facilities where I am now are as good as anything in Newmarket," he said. "But the difference is they're private, which means healthy. If your horses are healthy, you have a head start."

Wet weather permitting, O'Neill and Fretwell, and journeyman jockey Graham Gibbons, will start their week at Newbury today with Silent Times. Then it is off to war against the big guns with Pickett in Tuesday's Group Three five-furlong contest, and then Always Hopeful in the Group Two six-furlong Richmond Stakes on Friday.

Pickett bolted in at Hamilton nine days ago. "He's pretty smart," said O'Neill. "He has speed, but more than that, he can sit and then quicken. They'll go like the clappers and he can travel in behind. Downhill will be no problem; he won at Ripon, and if you do that you can gallop down the side of a house."

Always Hopeful's latest run was a creditable fifth, beaten less than two lengths under nine stone, in the Weatherbys Super Sprint. "It wasn't ideal to run him there, but it was a lot of money and we gave it a go," said O'Neill. "As it was, he ran a great race under that weight. He's ready for the step up to six furlongs."

O'Neill, advised by the experienced eye of Fretwell's former trainer, the now-retired Bryan McMahon, put in the miles at the yearling sales last year, and whatever glory is achieved this glorious week, there may be better to come.

"We worked hard," said O'Neill. "None of the ones we bought cost more than 40,000 guineas and only two have turned out to be useless. And we've got two really smart ones, better than any who have run to date, yet to race."

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest in Sport
Sport
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Coordinator

£18000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Reside...

Recruitment Genius: Plumber

£30000 - £31000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An independent boys' school sit...

Recruitment Genius: Professional Sales Trainee - B2B

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: First things first - for the av...

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue