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?
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?