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Jonjo O'Neill confident of bold Cheltenham Festival run from Johns Spirit

Johns Spirit has already secured two victories at Cheltenham this season and Jonjo O'Neill is hoping he can make it a terrific treble by prevailing in the Byrne Group Plate at the 2014 Festival.

The seven-year-old was far from disgraced when seventh of 20 behind Rajdhani Express in last term's Rewards4Racing Novices' Handicap Chase and also caught the eye when placed in competitive contests at Aintree and Ayr in the spring.

Following a summer break, Johns Spirit returned to action in great heart when hitting the front after the second-last fence to land a £31,000 16-runner handicap at Prestbury Park in October in the style of a progressive sort.

Being raised 10lb for that effort didn't stop him from then picking up £91,000 for prevailing in the prestigious Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham the following month, again taking the lead at a similar point under Richie McLernon before holding off Colour Squadron up the hill.

A further 9lb uplift hampered his hat-trick bid when only fifth behind Double Ross in another competitive contest at the same course in December but O'Neill is keeping his fingers crossed that defeat was more a case of the gelding needing a break rather than his progress reaching a plateau.

“He is in great form – he worked brilliantly the other morning," declared Jonjo. "The reason he hasn’t run is he keeps getting sore shins. He was fired and blistered after his last race so we have done a proper job on him. The owner has also been away until now so it has suited us not to run him.

"He has got stronger this season and is much happier in himself. He goes well for Richie and they suit each other. I would blame the shins for his last run. He was sore after the Paddy Power and we struggled to get him  back for the race in December. 

"He ran well off a higher rating and it is a hard thing to do - win both the Paddy Power and that race. You need to come out of the Paddy Power flying and he came out sore. It is a hard race, the Paddy Power. He is working fantastically at the minute, though, and I hope it stays that way for the next two weeks. He likes Cheltenham.”

O'Neill also has a soft spot for Prestbury Park himself, having ridden nine Festival winners as a jockey, including the likes of Dawn Run, Sea Pigeon and Alverton, before registering 22 successes since switching to the training ranks, with the highlighting being the 2012 Gold Cup triumph of Synchronised.


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Jonjo O'Neill confident of bold Cheltenham Festival run from Johns Spirit

Johns Spirit has already secured two victories at Cheltenham this season and Jonjo O'Neill is hoping he can make it a terrific treble by prevailing in the Byrne Group Plate at the 2014 Festival.

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